Ultimately, Burnett was denied, those dreams shattered by a seventh-inning single. The consolation prize wasn't bad, though: He'd settle for another strong victory in his second start for New York, coming in a 7-2 victory over the Rays on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
"Everybody in the world was thinking about it, even me," Burnett said. "I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't. I had good movement on everything tonight and I was putting the ball where I wanted to. It definitely could have happened, but it wasn't meant to be."
Burnett would know what that brand of dominance feels like. On May 12, 2001, Burnett threw a 3-0 no-hitter for the Marlins at San Diego, also in his second start of the year. But he looks back on that nine-walk performance the way some might regard a gawky high school yearbook photograph.
"Embarrassing -- that was a long time ago," Burnett said. "I didn't know where the ball was going then. I've always had a goal to throw another one, so I can wipe that one away."
With his hard and soft breaking balls both commanded with excellence, Burnett made a strong bid. One night after Tampa Bay put up 15 runs and 17 hits against New York pitching, Burnett struck out nine and walked just one. Mowing down the Rays' lineup, he faced just one batter over the minimum through six -- a second-inning walk to Pat Burrell.
"In the back of my mind, I'm saying that I know he's done it before and he can do it again," Mark Teixeira said. "Guys just did not look comfortable against him tonight. He had great stuff."
"A.J. is one of those guys that everyone loves to play defense behind," Brett Gardner said. "He's got electric stuff, and you can tell he's kind of got that bulldog mentality on the mound. You know that every time you step out there on the mound, he wants to strike you out and get the win."
The string ended when Carl Crawford led off the seventh by dropping a single into left field, beginning a sequence of four batters that erased not only the no-hitter, but also the shutout and the lead.
Evan Longoria shot a single to left and Carlos Pena followed with one to right field, chasing home Crawford with Tampa Bay's first run, and Burrell lofted a sacrifice fly to right that tied the game at 2. Though he was disappointed, Burnett held the game there.
"You've got to somehow find a way to let it go," Burnett said. "It's always tough to let it go when you've got something going on like that. I know I wouldn't do anything different. They hit some good pitches and fought some pitches off. We got out of it, though."
The Yankees struck back in the eighth as Gardner greeted reliever J.P. Howell with a double, moved to third on Derek Jeter's single and scored on Teixeira's sacrifice fly to left, reclaiming the lead.
Unflapped by the lost chance at history, Burnett came back out for the eighth and set down the side in order. Burnett has spoken often about his recent maturity as a pitcher, which Girardi said was exhibited in the seventh and eighth innings.
"He's in tune with what he has to do," Girardi said. "He's in tune with his body and his mechanics and the adjustments that he has to make."
Brian Bruney recorded the last three outs to make a winner of Burnett, who allowed three hits while walking one and striking out nine in a 103-pitch performance.
"It's tough as a hitter to give in and tip your hat to a guy," Longoria said. "But give credit where credit is due. He made a lot of good pitches and stayed out of the heart of the plate. Sometimes that's just the way it goes."
Though it was overshadowed by Burnett's quest, Tampa Bay right-hander Matt Garza also turned in a dominant outing in a no-decision. Garza allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings, walking two and striking out nine.
The Yankees got on the board in the first inning when Gardner singled to center, moved up on a Jeter hit and a walk to Teixeira, then scored on a Jorge Posada sacrifice fly.
Hot-hitting Nick Swisher added to the lead with a solo home run off Garza in the fourth inning, belting a 2-2 offering to right-center for his fourth home run and second in as many games.
The Yankees broke the game open in the ninth inning against Dan Wheeler, as Gardner added an RBI ground-rule double, his third hit, and Jeter followed with a three-run homer.
"It's a very good win for us," Girardi said. "We needed a win after a tough loss on Sunday and getting hammered last night. Our club did a lot of things right in the last two innings to put some runs across the board."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.