The only thing that could have been worse for the Pirates than losing their 81st game of the season to ensure a losing year would be if it was lost in grand fashion. And that’s exactly what happened at PNC Park on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
Facing the Reds’ Homer Bailey, who had sported a career 2.83 ERA against the Pirates, the right-hander was un-hittable against Pittsburgh’s lineup. Literally. Bailey needed 115 pitches to make history and throw a no-hitter. Not since August 14, 1971 had the Pirates been no hit. That came against St. Louis’ Bob Gibson at Three Rivers Stadium. Since then the only teams to avoid being no-hit longer are Cincinnati (since Rick Wise no-hit them on June 3, 1971) and the Chicago Cubs (since Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on September 9, 1965).
“Honestly I figured it out in about the sixth,” Bailey said. “I happened to look up there and see how many innings I had gone and looked and there were a couple of zeros up there. I was like, ‘wow. This is happening.’ After that, I just tried to make one pitch at a time.”
“I knew what was going on. You’d be a fool to say that you didn’t know what was going on. A couple pitches that ran way up, you’re getting a little too excited… I’ve thrown a bunch of no-hitters in my bullpens…So many things have to go in your favor. One little bloop, one little miscue, wrong positioning from an infielder, there’s your hit. A lot of it just has to go down to luck.”
The Pirates had just two base runners against Bailey — an error by the Reds’ third baseman Scott Rolen in the third, and a one-out walk to Andrew McCutchen in the seventh. McCutchen swiped second base, but was caught attempting to pick up third base as well.
“Everybody knows McCutchen’s fast,” Bailey said. “I didn’t really care if he stole second, third. I was just trying not to give up a hit. Trying not to get him to score.”
“Way the cookie crumbles,” McCutchen said of getting caught at third base. “We weren’t getting any hits, so trying to make something happen. That’s the risk I took, trying to – gonna be safe or out, if safe, have a good chance…Sometimes you just gotta give the guy credit, went out and pitched a good game. Spotting up, making big pitches when he needed. That’s what he did all night, he pitched a heck of a game. Sucks that happened right now, but what can you do? Show up tomorrow.”
“We’ve pushed Andrew to run,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I’ll tell you this, when I saw him coming off the field and I saw him look at the scoreboard, he said he had good intel. He said, ‘I saw him dig in the glove and I thought he grabbed a changeup.’ He threw a fastball. That’s why he was looking up to see the velocity. It was a bang-bang play. There’s risk and there’s reward…That’s not the reason we lost the game tonight.”
All the high hopes for the Pirates for the 2012 season have ended in their second-straight second half collapse. The Pirates two months ago on July 28th were at 58-42 (16 over .500) and on pace to win 94 games. They were just two games behind the Cincinnati, but saw themselves slide out of reach of the National League Central. They hung in the second spot in the Wild Card along with St. Louis, but that too, slipped away from them as they were eliminated during their final road trip of the season. But on Friday night at PNC Park, their chance at a winning season was taken off the table as well as they lost 1-0 to Cincinnati for No. 81 of the year.
“It’s been in the back of our minds,” Hurdle said. “The thing that’s been in the front of our mind is what needed to be in the front of our mind, with each piece it’s been taken away…You want to stay in contention for the Division, that got away. You want to stay contention for the Wild Card, that’s gotten away. The last thing on the plate [was] a .500 season.”
Lost in the no-hitter was the ballgame thrown from on the other side from veteran A.J. Burnett. After working himself into a jam in the first inning — when he allowed back-to-back singles and a walk to load the bases and no outs — Burnett escaped with allowing just a sac fly from Todd Frazier. An inning ending double play was turned to end the inning and keep the run to just one.
“The guys were joking around that I do better when I load the bases up with no outs,” Burnett said. “I don’t do it on purpose. I was able to find some pitches. Talking with Rod between inning and getting my curveball where it needs to be. We were able to get through eight strong. It’s tough. I’ve been on one of those. I’ve seen a couple of them. When a guy is on like that, it’s tough…I walked nine in mine. He didn’t do that.”
From there, Burnett cruised through seven scoreless innings. He scattered just five more hits in his 30th start of the season. Overall, Burnett was charged with one run on seven hits over eight innings. He walked one and struck out five while throwing 107 pitches, 63 strikes. Burnett tossed back-to-back eight inning outings and overall sports a 2.52 ERA in the month of September.
“If you stay around long enough, you’re probably going to taste one,” Hurdle said. “[Doesn’t taste good] No, not at all…That’s probably what it took to pin a loss on A.J. tonight. He was very effective again. He had a very good breaking ball. Kept the ball down very well…The punch outs, the ball on the ground, very effective. He stayed away from the big inning in the first. He pitched a very, very good ballgame.”
“Tough night,” Burnett said. “The play at third could have went either way. Obviously the scorekeeper doesn’t like the Pirates. We’ve seen it all year. But you can’t take anything away from Homer. The way he attacked us. Even in the ninth inning he came after us with nothing to lose.”
“I guess if you’re going to lose a game like that, that’s the way you want to lose it.”
McCutchen Returns to Lineup, Fighting for Batting Title
Andrew McCutchen was removed from the game on Thursday in New York due to a left knee contusion he suffered while attempting to make a diving catch in the seventh inning. But on Friday back in Pittsburgh, McCutchen said that he was good to go tonight and was in the starting lineup.
“I just tried to dive for the ball,” McCutchen said of the play. “Not try and get my wrist caught and dove kind of awkward I kind of dove on my knees before I dove head first. But it’s alright. I’m fine.”
McCutchen went 0-for-2 on the day, good for a .330 clip on the season. McCutchen trails San Francisco’s Buster Posey for the batting title. The catcher entered game action with a .333 average. McCutchen’s 0-for-4 skid on Thursday dropped him out of the lead for the race.
“He felt much better this morning,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s charged up that he’s involved in something of that significance. I’ve been doing more batting title watching than I have been scoreboard watching. It’s an exciting time for him individually. It’s not a happy time for him. He’s worked very hard to get into the position that he’s in right now, to have that laying out there and available to him with six games to play, I’m sure that’s going to give him some adrenaline.”
Walker Done for Season, Several Players Will Fill Void
Neil Walker said on Friday before batting practice that the decision was to shut him down for the remaining six games of the season. The decision, Walker said, was tough, but he felt it was the best move for the team. Walker was recently diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back.
“I think we got to a very real part in Neil’s mind in risk versus reward,” Hurdle said. “He wants to be a tough guy. He knows when there’s time where you’ve got to play through pain and injury. This particular situation has given him perspective to handle it accordingly.”
With Walker out, Jordy Mercer got the start at second base on Friday night. Hurdle said that he will not go with just one guy in Walker’s absence, but will get looks at both Josh Harrison and Brock Holt as well.
“There’s not one guy here I’m going to replace him with,” Hurdle said. “I’ve been wanting to get Jordy on the field. He looked very good yesterday doing a lot of different things. So we slid him over to second base. Brock has shown the ability to fill in over there as Harrison has.”
Rotation to Remain the Same for Finale
Manager Clint Hurdle said prior to the game on Friday that the rotation will remain as is for the season finale against Atlanta that kicks off on Monday for a three game set. Neither Jeff Karstens nor James McDonald will get an opportunity to get a final start of the 2012 season.
“Going through it as is,” Hurdle said. “Sticking with it all the way through the end.”
The rotation to end the season will go Jeff Locke on Monday, followed by Kevin Correia and A.J. Burnett for the season finale.