If the Seattle Mariners were desperate enough to use their third-string catcher on the mound, why not their All-Star right fielder. After all, this is a team whose only grand slam in this downtrodden season belongs to a pitcher.
"We were having a good little laugh watching him throw," Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith said.
Having already shuffled through the able bodies in the bullpen, the Mariners went beyond their second and third options, asking Burke to enter in the 15th inning and adding a comical tone to a 1-all game Sunday afternoon.
But Burke's effort certainly wasn't a joke. Burke threw well for a catcher-turned-pitcher, but the Detroit Tigers finally broke through with a sacrifice fly from Marcus Thames to escape with a 2-1 win over the Mariners and a split of the four-game series.
When Burke walked to the mound to start the 15th, most believed he was simply just throwing a few pitches to Jeff Clement, who was taking over behind the plate. They didn't know about Burke's past, that he had thrown four innings in the minors, and that he could throw four pitches for strikes.
Burke became the third position player in Mariners' history to take the mound. His first pitch was 82 mph and he hit 86 on the stadium radar gun.
But while players in both dugouts hugged the railings and stood on the top step snickering at the situation, Miguel Cabrera was too busy taking advantage. Cabrera lined a double to center field, lumbering into second. He was lifted for pinch runner Michael Hollimon, who advanced to third when Burke (0-1) tried to throw a slider that slipped from his hands and ended up in the netting of the backstop.
Thames then lifted a fly ball to deep left field that easily scored Hollimon with the winning run.
"I take it very seriously because it was an important game for us," Cabrera said. "I have to do the best I can do."
"Everybody thinks they can do everything. Everybody wants to try something," Burke said. "But once you get on that mound; I've never talked about that I've pitched or anything like that, because I know how hard it is to get on that mound."
Todd Jones pitched the bottom of the 15th for his 16th save in 17 chances, picking up the win for Aquilino Lopez (3-1), who pitched a scoreless 14th despite a potentially costly error from left fielder Clete Thomas.
"It was definitely one of the weirdest games I've been in," Jones said. "To have a position player have to pitch in the game was just an unfortunate break, but a good one for us."
Riggleman was forced to use Burke because his bullpen was spread thin. Reliever Arthur Rhodes woke up with a sore arm and couldn't get loose. Brandon Morrow had pitched four of the previous five days and Riggleman wanted to give him a day off. Tuesday's scheduled starter, Carlos Silva, had thrown on the side earlier Sunday. Saturday's starter, R.A. Dickey, volunteered to throw, but had tossed more than 100 pitches in his start.
"I said I wanted to. I asked," Suzuki added.
Lost in the novelty of Burke's appearance was outstanding pitching on both sides, most notably Detroit starter Nate Robertson.
Robertson was outstanding, pitching nine innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run. Seattle did have a chance in the ninth to win against Robertson when Suzuki reached on an infield single and was at second with one out.
Robertson then picked the right time for his first strikeout of the day, getting Raul Ibanez to chase a 1-2 curveball. After a second consecutive intentional walk to Beltre, Richie Sexson flew out to center field to end the inning.
Robertson reversed a season-long trend of poor pitching away from home. His only mistake was Yuniesky Betancourt's RBI double in the third that accounted for Seattle's lone run.
Robertson was the first of five pitchers used by the Tigers. Seattle went seven deep, the last being Burke, who became the first Mariners' position player to pitch since John Mabry in 2000 against Tampa Bay.
Rowland-Smith threw five strong innings in just his second professional start for Seattle, his lone mistake being Ryan Raburn's solo home run in the fifth. After Rowland-Smith, Seattle's bullpen combined for nine shutout innings before Thames' sacrifice fly.
The Tigers' staff was even better, holding Seattle to just four hits after the third inning.
"This may have been the best game Nate has thrown that I've seen," Jones said. "Those guys were great and we just sort of outlasted them today."
- It was the longest game of the season, by innings, for both teams. The previous long for both was 12 innings.
- Suzuki was selected to his eighth straight All-Star team on Sunday and was the only Seattle representative. Detroit's lone representative will be 3B Carlos Guillen, who was selected as a reserve. It will be the third All-Star appearance for Guillen.
- Detroit sent utility man Brandon Inge out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Sunday. Inge went on the disabled list June 23 with a pulled oblique. Manager Jim Leyland hopes to get Inge back after the All-Star break.