Because Josh Beckett matched him nearly pitch for pitch, Burnett could not win. But for the first time in three tries, he thrived against the Red Sox, proving quite a bit to the 48,262 in attendance -- and even more to his teammates.
"It's important, because it's like a playoff game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "There's going to be games like that down the stretch here that we're playing. They're going to be tight ballgames and A.J. came up huge for us. To match zeroes with their guy, it's incredible. Both of those guys pitched great."
No doubt, it was grating on Burnett, knowing that he had been signed this past winter in part because of his success against the Red Sox. Prior to this season, Burnett had been 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in eight starts against the Sox. But he had been pummeled in his first two starts as a Yankee in Boston, walking eight batters in 7 2/3 innings and posting an 0-1 record with a 12.91 ERA.
Granted, he walked a half-dozen batters in Friday's game, as well. But he also struck out six, allowed just one hit -- on a ball that Nick Swisher could have caught -- and kept the Red Sox scoreless deep into the eighth.
Statistically, it was not his best start to date -- that came when he one-hit the Mets over seven innings in June, striking out 10 and earning the win. But considering the circumstances, it was easily Burnett's finest performance as a Yankee.
"Under the circumstances, I think it was," Rodriguez said. "He threw the ball extremely well."
"I told him the same thing," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "This is probably as good as he's pitched all year, because that team over there can hit. To shut them down like he did, he wasn't in trouble too often and he pitched out of it. When he's pitching like that, he's tough to beat."
There was a bit of rockiness early on, when Burnett walked two and allowed his lone hit in the first inning. But a double play helped him escape that jam, and he didn't allow multiple baserunners in any other inning. In the second, fifth and seventh, Burnett retired the side in order.
It was quite the rebound from his last start, in which Burnett allowed seven runs over 4 2/3 innings to the White Sox in Chicago. By the middle innings Friday, Burnett had proven that outing to be an aberration, rather than a return to his early mediocrity. Taking that Chicago start out of the equation and dating back to May 27, Burnett is 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA.
"This is probably the best I've felt in a couple starts," Burnett said, noting that his success in the later innings Friday stemmed from a better feel for his curveball as the game wore on. "I was able to find myself. I never got frustrated, so that was big."
His work done and his teammates locked in a scoreless tie, Burnett spent the rest of his Friday in the clubhouse eating, refueling and reflecting. This was not his first taste of the rivalry, but perhaps it was his proper introduction.
"It was awesome," Burnett said. "It was an environment that really I can't describe. You saw it --the whole place was packed in the 15th. To come off the field and get that kind of ovation is one thing. I've never experienced anything like that before. It was amazing."