PITTSBURGH -- Amid the Pirates' many feel-good stories, the feel-best story may very well be the renaissance of A.J. Burnett. It is always reassuring when good people triumph over others' judgments, and Burnett has taken both the ball and the pulpit for the Bucs. "He enjoys every single day, and it just rubs off on you," said catcher Rod Barajas, who is reunited with the veteran pitcher four years after they formed a Toronto battery. "To be back with him and be able to again work with him has been great." The way he has affected the Pirates, you don't know whether Burnett should be up for the Cy Young Award -- or the Robert Young Award. In television's Golden Age, the actor starred in "Father Knows Best," dispensing advice to his kids in the manner that Burnett has employed to mentor the younger guys on the Pittsburgh staff.
It is pretty cool to listen to a guy who leads your team with eight wins and has nine quality starts among his 12. There is a considerable segment out there nodding its collective head and thinking, "Yeah, well, we saw this coming. That whole 'get out of the AL East beast into the soft NL Central' thing." Oh yeah? Please note that four of Burnett's wins, including the last three, have been over American League teams. And the one time he was roughed up, to the stats-inflating tune of 12 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, it was at the hands of the Cardinals, one of those "soft" NL Central teams.