RED SOX 2, WHITE SOX 1
Burkett gives Sox more quality time
CHICAGO -- Shocking as it may seem in September, the Red Sox have won more games this season behind John Burkett (16) than Pedro Martinez (13). In fact, the Sox have won more games behind Burkett than anyone but Derek Lowe (17).
In the latest shocker, Burkett last night utterly befuddled the AL Central-leading White Sox, one of the most explosive offensive teams in baseball, to help overcome a dazzling two-hitter by the fireballing Bartolo Colon and the benching of Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez.
The 38-year-old Burkett defied the ravages of age and the last lingering skeptics in the Hub to shackle the White Sox with a lone run over six innings while Trot Nixon and Gabe Kapler socked the only Boston hits for solo homers in a 2-1 victory before 23,943 at US Cellular Field.
"I've said all along that I just want the responsibility of being able to pitch these games," said Burkett, who has helped five previous teams reach the playoffs. "These games are extra special and things you remember. This game is one I'll remember for a while."
With the season's hourglass draining, Burkett put on a quite show for Ramirez and his pals on the pine as he helped the Sox hang within a game of the Mariners in the wild-card race after Seattle outlasted the Devil Rays, 10-8, in 11 innings. The Sox also crept back within four games of the idle Yankees in the AL East as they prepared for their final showdown of the season in the Bronx this weekend.
Burkett, with a huge assist from the Sox bullpen (Scott Williamson and Byung Hyun Kim in particular), improved to 10-7 as he submitted his 16th quality start of the season, exceeded in the rotation only by Martinez's 17.
"A guy like this is invaluable to a ball club, for us to have him go out there every fifth game and know exactly what to expect all the time," manager Grady Little said. "Sometimes the guy gets hit a little bit, but he has the knack of making pitches to get out of games."
Burkett has helped the Sox win despite opposing the likes of Colon, Toronto's Roy Halladay, and Seattle's Freddy Garcia in his last three starts alone.
"I've been facing some tough guys, but our guys seem to rally around me," he said. "They believe in me."
The Sox also believed enough in Kapler, who entered the game batting .235 against Colon, to start him over the benched Ramirez, who was hitting .455 against Colon. And Kapler delivered, making several key plays in left field, and slugging the decisive home run off a slider with one out in the sixth.
But as gratified as Kapler was to rise to the moment in his special assignment in the heat of pennant race, he knew his homer could easily have wound up an afterthought if not for Burkett and his pen pals.
"It's pretty impressive what our pitchers did, coming into Chicago, which is a hostile environment in itself, with vicious fans at times, and put up a strong performance like that," Kapler said.
Colon, who was still hitting 98 on the radar gun in the ninth inning, was so overpowering that the Sox did not leave a single runner on base. Other than the two homers, the Sox reached base only when Kevin Millar walked leading off the fifth inning. And Millar promptly was erased when Nixon bounced into a double play, only his third in 480 plate appearances this season.
Though Burkett was less dominant than Colon, he was crafty enough to escape a series of mini-threats after he allowed the lone Chicago run in the first inning. In all, he gave up only three hits and a walk, though he also hit three batters.
Burkett made a dandy recovery after a rocky start. In fact, the first batter he faced, Roberto Alomar, scored. Alomar opened the first inning for Chicago by lacing a line drive into right-center and hustling it into a double. A batter later, Burkett drilled Frank Thomas in the left shoulder with a pitch, then walked Magglio Ordonez to load the bases for Carl Everett.
The planets appeared aligned for Burkett when Everett blooped a ball to shallow right-center. Second baseman Todd Walker gave every indication he would snag the popup with relative ease. But as Johnny Damon approached from center, appearing poised to let Walker make the play, Walker slowed and let the ball drop. At that, Alomar dashed home while Walker recovered quickly enough to force Thomas at third.
After Burkett departed with the 2-1 lead, Brandon Lyon marked his first appearance since July 20 by surrendering a double to Joe Crede leading off the seventh. A batter later, Lyon plunked Alomar to put runners at the corners with one out -- and the lead in jeopardy.
"Brandon just tried a little too hard on that one pitch and hit Robby," catcher Jason Varitek said.
No problem. Enter Williamson, who induced Carlos Lee to ground into an inning-ending double play, then mowed down the heart of the White Sox order in the eighth.
"I've gone into tough situations before and didn't come through the other couple of times," Williamson said. "I'm glad Skip had the confidence to put me in that situation again."
Little was more than happy to.
"That's as well as I've seen him locate the ball since he joined our club," Little said. "He had outstanding stuff."
Kim then survived a tenacious at-bat by Paul Konerko leading off the ninth en route to retiring the White Sox in order for his 12th save.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.