DETROIT -- It was less than two years ago that A.J. Burnett -- every bit as erratic and unpredictable as he is today -- took the ball in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series and pitched seven strong innings, beating Pedro Martinez in a game that altered the entire series.
Burnett still has video of that game saved on his laptop. He plans to watch it before Tuesday's Game 4 start in the American League Division Series against the Tigers at 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS, confident he can rediscover whatever it was that made him so successful that night and help the Yankees stave off elimination.
"You can't count me out," Burnett said. "I'm going to bring everything I've got and just let A.J. loose out there."
Key stat: 1.5 HRs per nine innings is highest of his 13-year career.
Key stat: 3.55 ERA in five September starts.
At Comerica Park
2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 2.57 Career: 4 GS, 2-2, 7.17
2011: 14 GS, 5-5, 5.64 ERA Career: 44 GS, 20-13, 4.59 ERA
Against this opponent
2011: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.75 Career: 8 GS, 4-2, 6.33 ERA
2011: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.57 ERA Career: 4 GS, 2-2, 5.56 ERA
Loves to face.: Delmon Young, 3-for-15 Hates to face: Victor Martinez, 7-for-27
Loves to face: Mark Teixeira, 1-for-10 Hates to face: Robinson Cano, 5-for-11
Why he'll win: Current Tigers are batting .239 against him with a .333 on-base percentage.
Why he'll win: Dominated NYY in May with 7 IP, 8H and 2ER.
Pitcher beware: Has just three wins since the All-Star break.
Pitcher beware: Has never pitched in the postseason before.
Bottom line: Keep the ball in the yard.
Bottom line: Don't pitch to Cano.
Once a polarizing figure, Burnett has since become loathed amongst a fan base that almost unanimously considers him a wasted investment. In the third season of his five-year, $82.5 million contract, Burnett posted a 5.15 ERA this summer, losing 11 games and submitting a 7.50 ERA over his final eight outings of the season. Had rain not suspended Game 1 of the ALDS in New York, Burnett would have worked exclusively out of the bullpen this week.
But Mother Nature did what she did, forcing Burnett back into the rotation and putting a collective fan base on edge. How he fares will go a long way toward determining whether the Yankees will advance to their third consecutive AL Championship Series.
"Obviously, there are things you are more comfortable doing, but A.J. was willing to do whatever we needed," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We explained to him what we were doing. He was never agitated."
"I've been proving people wrong my whole career, it seems like," Burnett said. "People are entitled to their opinion. Obviously, I give them reasons here and there to doubt. The bottom line is I have confidence in myself."
What is maddening to Yankees fans is that Burnett, even at age 34, still possesses some of the best pure stuff in the game. His average fastball sits above 92 mph, faster than most starting pitchers 10 years younger than him. His breaking ball -- "my hook," as he likes to calls it -- has bite. And yet Burnett has been utterly unable to establish any consistency on the mound.
When he is right, Burnett is still capable of pitching at an elite level -- take his final start of the season against the Red Sox, for example, when Burnett held a faltering offense to two runs over 7 2/3 innings. But Burnett is so rarely right these days. His game log is chock full of crooked numbers. And if he submits another lopsided score in Game 4, the Yankees could pay for it with their season.
That's why Burnett plans to review tape of himself at his best, hoping to recapture something -- anything -- that he can use to his advantage against the Tigers. This is a Detroit team that Burnett beat in his first start of the season, then held to two earned runs over seven innings in May. Its star, Miguel Cabrera, has just three hits in 14 career at-bats against Burnett. Middle-of-the-order sluggers Magglio Ordonez and Delmon Young have endured similar struggles, mustering a combined six hits off Burnett in 28 at-bats.
If not confidence, that much at least gives the Yankees reason for hope.
"Believe it or not, I have pretty good confidence every start," Burnett said. "I try to go out and believe I can throw a no-hitter."
His team will settle for a quality start. One of those may be enough to help the Yankees force a decisive Game 5, erasing most of what has been a sour season for their enigmatic pitcher.
"I'm not going to go out and try to prove anything," Burnett said. "I'm going to go out and try to win a ballgame."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.