A.J. Burnett never shies away from showing his feelings and theatrics on the mound to join his strikeouts.
In the Pirates’ 2-1 extra-innings win to take 1st place over the Cardinals for the start of Tuesday’s doubleheader, Burnett flashed his fist pumps, his yells, his glove flips and possibly his curse words. The veteran starter struck out nine St. Louis hitters, did not give up any hits to his final 18 batters and allowed only one Cardinals run.
“He’s not one to hide his emotions by any means, anywhere,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “That’s one of the things you love about him. He pitches with his heart.”
Burnett’s seven strong innings and the Pittsburgh bullpen’s four shutout innings kept the door open for Alex Presley to hit a walk-off ricochet single. Presley was the only Pirates batter to get more than one hit and was greeted with a shaving cream pie and high-fives from teammates. He will have to wash off for Game 2 as the Bucs look to keep baseball’s best record.
“It’s always fun going up against them. They’re the team to beat,” Burnett said. “It’s good to see a packed house… they’re in every pitch, every count, every play. We feed off that.”
The game’s other key play was Andrew McCutchen’s heart-stopping catch-and-throw double play to smother a 1st-inning St. Louis threat. With two runners on, Carlos Beltran lined a Burnett curveball to right-center. McCutchen dove to make the grab, got up and doubled off the far-lingering Matt Holliday to prevent the Cardinals from grabbing the early lead.
“It basically told me I need to get my (pause) together,” Burnett said. And yes, he did pause.
Lynn Holds it Down
Though our lead sentence was about A.J. Burnett, that is to take nothing away from his mound opponent Lance Lynn. The young Cardinals pitcher allowed only five baserunners over his six-inning start. McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez hit back-to-back doubles to score the lone run off Lynn in the 1st inning. After that, Lynn retired eight straight batters and gave up just one more hit the rest of the way.
Pete Kozma led off the 3rd inning by doubling to the North Shore Notch in left-center. Lynn then reached on a bunt single misplayed by Burnett, who then walked Matt Carpenter to load the bases. Burnett limited the damage by striking out Jon Jay, getting Holliday to hit into an RBI ground out and drawing a Beltran lineout.
A.J. says S.T.F.D.
Burnett and the PNC Park crowd did not get truly animated until the 6th inning, though the pitcher rolled through the 4th and 5th. Jay swung and missed at an 0-2 pitch. The ball ricocheted off Jay’s toe (which should have meant a dead-ball strikeout) and away from catcher Russell Martin, who lackadaisically walked to the baseball. While he did, Jay ran down the line and rounded 1st and got to 2nd safely. Martin and manager Clint Hurdle argued with home plate umpire Eric Cooper, who met the other umps to discuss, but the call stayed strikeout and wild pitch to put Jay in scoring position as the go-ahead run.
“I don’t think they wanted to talk to me very much. They didn’t see it the way I saw it,” Burnett said.
That’s when Burnett entered full-emotion shutdown mode. He struck out Holliday swinging and got Carlos Beltran to fly out to keep Jay at 2nd. Next batter Matt Adams hit a comebacker to Burnett, who turned around and deflected the bouncer with a backwards-turned glove. He chased down the ball and threw to 1st, exiting the inning unscathed to raucous cheers from his Pittsburgh faithful.
Burnett returned for the 7th, struck out Daniel Descalso and Allen Craig, then exited by pumping his fist and appearing to shout “Fuck Yeah!” to the roars of the crowd. He called it one of the best cheers he has ever heard coming off the mound. Burnett allowed only three hits and three walks over his seven quality innings.
Chance After Chance
Pinch-hitter Josh Harrison hit a seeing-eye single to start the 8th inning, then advanced to 2nd base on a sacrifice bunt that Starling Marte just barely could not beat out. After reliever Seth Maness got Neil Walker to line out and intentionally walk McCutchen, left-hander Randy Choate entered to draw an Alvarez threat-ending groundout.
The Bucs had a chance to walk off in the Bottom 9th thanks to some help from Cardinals third baseman Daniel Descalso. Presley grounded a ball down the third-base line with two outs, Descalso dove to grab it but threw it away instead of holding it. The throw bounced into the stands to put Presley at 2nd, but next batter Clint Barmes lined out to center to put Game 1 into extra innings.
St. Louis got a better chance in the Top 10th. Reliever Bryan Morris walked leadoff pinch-hitter Shane Robinson then gave up a one-out single to Jon Jay. But Major League ground-into-double-play leader Holliday hit a sharp grounder that Clint Barmes snagged and turned for the inning-ending DP. Satisfying.
“That’s as good an infield double play as you’ll see, in a tight situation,” Hurdle said. “That ball was hot off the bat.”
Back to the Pirates for the Bottom 11th. Martin and pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez each drew a one-out walk from left-hander Kevin Siegrist. Then Presley grounded a fastball off Siegrist’s glove and into the grass in left-center field. Martin came around to score and send the Pirates into Game 2 on a note of victory.