Richard Justice

Good things happening for good-guy Burnett

Justice: Good things happening for good-guy Burnett

Good things happening for good-guy Burnett
Few athletes have ever handled tough times better than A.J. Burnett. Through all his struggles with the Yankees, he was a consummate professional.

So, yeah, good things do sometimes happen to good people.

Burnett continued a terrific season Tuesday night in tossing a one-hitter against the Cubs for his 13th victory.

He got within four outs of a no-hitter, lost it on an Adrian Cardenas single, then finished up.

He has more than resurrected his career with the Pirates. He's second in the NL in victories, 10th in quality starts and 12th in ERA.

Numbers can't begin to reveal his true contribution to the Pirates, who are 15 games over .500 and in contention for their first playoff appearance in 20 years.

The Pirates were in contention for four months last season, too, but stumbled badly and finished 24 games behind the Cardinals.

That experience probably proved helpful for a lot of players who'd never been through the grind of a pennant race.

During the offseason, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington added three veterans: shortstop Clint Barmes, catcher Rod Barajas and Burnett.

Huntington wanted their production, but he also wanted their experience and maturity. Barmes is a terrific defensive shortstop, filling a need the Bucs have had for a couple of years.

Likewise, Barajas has done fabulous work with James McDonald and the pitching staff.

And there's Burnett.

He's one of those guys with an everyman demeanor that plays well through the course of a long season.

He's also a guy who has been through so much that he can lend advice on things that happen on the mound and in the clubhouse.

In everything from training between starts to setting up hitters to knowing certain hitters, Burnett has been a valuable resource for the entire team.

There's probably not a former teammate, manager or coach who is anything except thrilled that things have worked out so well for Burnett.

He came to the Yankees with the hype of an $82.5-million contract after a huge 2008 season in Toronto: 18 victories, 231 strikeouts, 221 innings.

In three seasons with the Yankees, he averaged 195 innings, but never came close to fulfilling expectations. He was 34-35 and had a 4.79 ERA.

He got booed some and ripped some and had pretty much the whole New York experience. There surely were times that things were eating him up inside, but he never showed in.

When he was dealt to the Pirates shortly before the beginning of Spring Training, it was clear his former teammates had a real affection for him. They also reminded reporters that he had plenty of very solid games.

He stepped into the perfect situation in Pittsburgh. Huntington and Clint Hurdle are putting the finish touches on a splendid reconstruction, and Burnett was the perfect fit on the mound and in the clubhouse.

If he'd gotten the no-hitter, he'd be getting praise from coast to coast today. That would be appropriate, too. But to a lot of people, he has already earned it.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.