Playoff payoff a sweet one for Burrell

Playoff payoff a sweet one for Burrell

PHILADELPHIA -- With a soaked baseball cap on backward and champagne dripping from his face -- thanks to the steady streams being poured by Aaron Rowand and Greg Dobbs -- Pat Burrell stared at the wet black patch on his right sleeve, then to the sky.

Vuk.

Patrick Brian Burrell won't forget the influence John Vukovich had on his development as a player and a man. So on this day -- nearly seven months after Vukovich's passing -- Burrell shared his first taste of baseball euphoria with the instrumental coach who taught him about determination, perseverance and mostly, the toughness required to play in Philadelphia.

"He's up there watching," Burrell said, with tears now mixing with the champagne. "When I got here as a young player, all the stuff he taught me was to get here."

Sometimes criticized in the past for a perceived lack of emotion, Burrell couldn't be criticized for an unanimated demeanor Sunday. He was the first one out of the dugout to tackle Brett Myers after the final out -- stepping in front of catcher Chris Coste, inadvertently violating what is a historically pitcher/catcher moment. Along with teammates, Burrell remained on the field well after the game had ended, partying with the fans who at times in the past have criticized him.

They certainly didn't show him love July 1, when an 0-for-4 game sank his average to a season-low .201. He'd been dropped to sixth in the order and wasn't playing regularly for stretches. A .125 performance (8-for-64) during the month of June proved particularly painful.

"That was rough," Burrell said at the time. "You obviously hear [boos from fans]. As bad as they can be, they've been that much better when it's going good. All you have to do is hit three homers every night."

Burrell didn't do that, but he did hit .448 (30-for-67) over the next 23 games. The rest of the story should sound familiar. He batted .302 with a .426 on-base percentage the rest of the season, clubbing 22 homers and driving in 65 RBIs. A .209 September settled his regular-season average at .256.

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For his part, Burrell got one of the louder ovations at Philadelphia's Rally Monday, where thousands of fans cheered the Phillies for their National League East title, which came on the strength of a 13-3 stretch over their final 16 games.

Burrell just took in the moment that he might have begun to doubt would come. The longest-tenured current Phillies player is heading to the postseason after playing 1,149 games wearing the Philly uniform.

"I just never thought about how it would be," Burrell said. "I never wanted to lose concentration. I wanted to do it and worry about the rest later. This is what it's all about, and it's pretty cool."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.