NEW YORK — Most of the focus at Yankee Stadium was on the pitcher starting Monday's Game 3 for the Rangers, Cliff Lee.
But most of the talk — and controversy — was about the pitcher starting tonight's Game 4 for the Yankees, RHP A.J. Burnett.
The Yankees made — and apparently are sticking with — the decision to pitch Burnett despite a horribly inconsistent season in which he went 10-15, 5.26, was winless over his final six regular-season starts and was skipped in the first round of the playoffs.
"We all know what A.J. can dial up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And we believe in him."
The reality is that they have no choice, despite the public outcry to instead used CC Sabathia. Doing so would compromise their staff for the remainder of the series: Sabathia — who got rocked in Friday's opener — would be on short rest tonight and again for a possible Game 7, Phil Hughes would be for the first time in his career for Game 5 and Andy Pettitte, who missed two months with a groin strain, would be for a potential Game 6.
Burnett is, at the least, aware of the controversy. "To be honest with you, I hear it everywhere, but I'm not really paying attention to it," he said.
"I know a lot of things have been written. I don't read a lot; I don't dig into it too much. But I do go off with everyday people that I meet at breakfast and lunch and stuff, and it's been nothing but positive toward me. I'm just going at it as it's my turn to pitch in Game 4 of the AL Championship (Series)."
Burnett hasn't pitched since Oct. 2 and said that might be a good thing, too. "From the work I've been doing, I'm in a pretty good groove," he said. "I haven't pitched in a long time, so I haven't struggled in a long time."
LOUD RECEPTION: Rangers starter Tommy Hunter, a 24-year-old in his second big-league season, pitches in New York for the first time tonight. While he knows enough to expect it to be loud, he isn't exactly worried about the impact of having 50,000 people yelling at him.
"I had Mom screaming at me when I was 12," he said. "That's probably more intimidating than people I don't know."
TENSE TINO: Tampa's Tino Martinez played in 99 postseason games during his stellar 16-season career. But in none of those was he as nervous as he was Monday, and in a handful of other similar appearances since his 2006 retirement, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"It's nerve-wracking," Martinez said. "When you're out there playing, you're into a groove and you don't worry about it. … I've done it a couple times, and it doesn't get any easier. Since they asked me last week to do it, I've thought about it every day. … It's one throw — if they let you throw five or six warmup pitches and then throw one, I could do it."
Martinez was worried for no reason: He threw a strike and got a huge ovation.
MISCELLANY: The Rangers have homered in each of their eight playoff games; their regular-season high streak was six. … Ex-Ray Jorge Cantu isn't getting much of an opportunity with the Rangers. He was out of the lineup in favor of lefty swinging Mitch Moreland on Monday against the left-handed Pettitte and in last week's Game 5 vs. Rays LHP David Price.