ANAHEIM -- Two weeks ago, A.J. Burnett could base his postseason expectations only on the stories and warnings of others. Though he had seen it up close once before, with the Marlins in 2003, he had never pitched.
Now, though, Burnett is a crusty old postseason veteran, the product of 12 1/3 October innings and two of the wildest games of the playoffs to date. On Thursday, he will take the mound at Angel Stadium with a chance to send the Yankees to the World Series for the first time since that same October.
The crowd, the home team and the Rally Monkey may all have different ideas for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, scheduled for 7:57 p.m. ET on FOX -- in what promises to be the most daunting playoff atmosphere Burnett has ever experienced. But Burnett has learned not to worry.
"I think I'll be able to channel that," he said.
A World Series berth depends upon it.
Seated before a small crowd at Angel Stadium on Wednesday's ALCS off-day, Burnett projected calm and cool -- two attributes not always associated with the emotional right-hander.
Indeed, this postseason, Burnett has been plenty wild, walking two batters, hitting another two and throwing a wild pitch in Game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday. But he has also been effective. In that same game, Burnett allowed merely three hits and two earned runs, striking out four and keeping the Yankees very much in the game.
They eventually won that game and two others, and now, up 3-1 in this best-of-seven series, the Yankees need a victory from Burnett to clinch a World Series berth without delay.
And the Angels know it.
"Burnett's tough," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got as good a fastball-breaking ball combination as there is in the game. But there are some things that we can do from an offensive standpoint to get more pressure on these guys, and we have to bring that out."
These days, every Burnett start brings with it an additional question: Who will be catching him? The Yankees, as has become their custom, have not revealed whether Jorge Posada or his backup, Jose Molina, will squat behind the plate for Burnett -- though it's as good a bet as ever that Molina will catch Burnett for the ninth straight time dating back to early September.
The reasoning is that he and Burnett have a better relationship, and the statistics seem to back that up. But Burnett and Molina did not often seem to be on the same page in Game 2, the pitcher and catcher constantly meeting on the mound for a series of mid-inning chats.
It is important to note, however, that for all Burnett's wildness and unpredictability, he has been quite successful over his first two career playoff appearances. In his starts against the Twins and Angels, Burnett has compiled a 2.19 ERA, allowing six hits in 12 1/3 innings and striking out 10.
The Yankees can hardly argue with those results, even if the process can be nerve-racking.
They can also take heart in the fact that Burnett fared reasonably well against the Angels in the regular season. In two starts against them, the hard-throwing right-hander was 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA, striking out 16 batters over 12 2/3 innings and walking just four -- experiences that should help him in what promises to be a raucous Angel Stadium.
"I haven't been on the mound yet when it's gone this wild," Burnett said. "I'm sure it's just a matter of breathing."
A simple game plan for a man who has at times folded beneath swells of emotion. But Burnett has succeeded so far in the playoffs, in the most pressurized games he has ever played as a pro. There's little reason to think he might stop now.
"I thought he did a pretty good job of keeping his emotions in check during the course of the season," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The one thing about playing in New York is it prepares you for a lot, because of the magnitude of so many of the games that we play and the expectations. You get a chance to go through it all year, and it's not like the awareness just gets stepped up at playoff time. When you play in New York, it's up all the time."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.