Burkett's at a loss to explain success

August 04, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

It's the defense, John Burkett says. No, now he says it's the offense. And not only that, it's also Rod Beck. He keeps talking, and now it's the overall team attitude.

Before you can ask another question, try to pin him down, he's telling you a pitcher on this Giants team would have to work to fail.

Don't believe it. Or, if you really want to, believe some of it.

Burkett is not 16-4 just because he has been caught in a swirl of outside forces. He hasn't been swept up in a strong undertow, left to flail helplessly in a sea of easy wins. No, the one enduring myth about John Burkett, conceived and propagated by Burkett himself, is that he exists and survives solely on the merits of guile and intuition.

In other words, that he doesn't have good stuff.

Again, don't believe it.

"When you talk to Burkett, he puts himself down and is all humble and everything," pitching coach Dick Pole said. "But he's got good stuff."

Pole is smiling now, like a man letting the world in on a secret he has been dying to reveal.

"He may not throw 95 miles an hour," Pole says, "but he's got good stuff. Look at the hitters; they'll tell you."

Said Burkett: "Nobody plays it up that John Burkett has tremendous stuff, because I don't. The average person might not know about my stuff, but I think the hitters know."

Burkett admits he sometimes lets his mind wander, considering the possibilities. Sixteen wins by the beginning of August, with 11 or 12 starts left ... he smiles a little and shakes his head.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "Kind of hard to believe. It is weird. I'm used to it, though. I realize that if I pitch well, I have a good chance of winning with this team. A lot of things have gone my way this season.

"Being on a team like this, it's hard to look at personal things. But the opportunity is definitely there, and it might never come again. I guess I have to get greedy."

Burkett's style is hard to categorize, but the very fact that people are trying is a testament to his improvement. He's not a slop-balling control freak like Bob Tewksbury, but he doesn't walk anybody, either. He's not a hard-sinker-and-strikeout guy like Greg Maddux, but there are some striking similarities between the two.

"John's got pretty sound mechanics, and a great mental approach to it," Pole said. "He's very aggressive. It sounds like an oxymoron, but you can be aggressive with offspeed pitches. Not a lot of guys can do that."

The hitters might get their hits off Burkett, but they don't get the important ones.

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