Ten years ago today (September 19, 2003) the Boston Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians in Jacobs Field. Progressive Insurance was still five year away from buying the naming rights to the stadium, the Indians’ Eric Wedge was in his first season as a manager, and the winning pitcher was John Burkett.
While he didn’t know it at the time, Burkett was making one of his last appearances in the major leagues. No team would step forward to offer a contract to the then 38-year-old right hander.
The Red Sox would be the last of five stops in the career of the veteran pitcher. In 59 starts during the 2002 and 2003 seasons Burkett won 25 games and compiled a 4.85 ERA as the team’s fifth starter. Although he posted a shiny 3.01 ERA and struck out a career-high 20% of batters in 2001, his second of two seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Burkett was still nearly a decade removed from his fourth place finish in Cy Young voting for his work in the 1993 season.
Burkett would pitch two times in the Red Sox 2003 playoff run: once against the Oakland A’s and once against the New York Yankees. He held the A’s to four runs in 5.1 innings, which was enough for the Boston bats to overcome. In Yankee Stadium, Burkett started Game 6 of the ALCS and lasted just 3.2 innings while surrendering five runs, though only three were earned. The Red Sox would win that game, tying the series at three and giving Pedro Martinez the chance to send the Sox to the World Series with a victory in the final game.
That his career ended with the Red Sox is somewhat interesting in it’s own right because of a trade that took place in August of 1996. The Marlins traded Burkett for a young pitcher on the Texas Rangers, a guy in the A level South Atlantic League named Ryan Dempster. Still just 19 years old, Dempster wouldn’t make his debut in the majors for two more years.