A.J. Burnett

What Led to A.J. Burnett’s Seven-Run Inning?

A.J. Burnett Pittsburgh Pirates

A.J. Burnett recorded strikes on just 53 percent of his pitches Thursday afternoon. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Busch Stadium has been the home of several A.J. Burnett nightmares, but his Thursday afternoon was a new day terror.

The St. Louis Cardinals attacked Burnett for seven runs without recording an out in the 3rd inning of National League Division Series Game 1. The veteran right-hander escaped a no-out jam in the 2nd by generating two groundballs, but nothing worked out for Burnett in the next frame as all eight batters reached base to end his first playoff start with the Pirates.

“That 3rd I was just too anxious,” Burnett said. “Just didn’t stay back. Didn’t execute anything, and that’s been the story here.”

Coming off back-to-back Busch starts in which he gave up five earned runs, Burnett matched last season’s 12-run tire fire in spirit if not exact result. The blowup set in motion a 9-1 Cardinals victory in NLDS Game 1.

What was the problem? Command. Burnett would have had trouble locating his pitches through the span of the Gateway Arch.

The 36-year-old started the game poorly trying to hit the glove of catcher Russell Martin, but the second time through the Cardinals lineup was worse. In the 3rd, Burnett threw 21 balls in 37 pitches. While the pitchers got the advantage of late-afternoon shadows early on, there was nowhere for Burnett’s poor control to hide in the seven-run inning, especially with his curveball.

“It’s always in the dirt, but it was off big time that way,” Burnett said. “Just too strong throwing it. Trying to throw it too hard. Just trying to make it nastier than it needs to be.”

Starting the 3rd

Opposing starting pitcher Adam Wainwright led off the frame by drawing a leadoff walk (“Ball cut away from the plate,” Burnett said), then Matt Carpenter smacked a single on a hitter’s count. Next batter Carlos Beltran squared up a belt-high sinker that Burnett said didn’t move, smashing a home run 443 feet into Busch Stadium’s second-deck.

Wainwright celebrated on his way home. After all, the St. Louis starter was through three perfect innings himself and Burnett had just spotted him a cushy 3-0 lead.

The crowd in red was rocking, but at least the bases were empty again.

Not for long with Burnett’s curveball location.

Dangerous Curves

Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday kept the 3rd-inning rally going against Burnett. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

He left one curve for Matt Holliday to smack into the right-center gap. He hit Matt Carpenter in the foot with another. Then he couldn’t find the strike zone with the curve and walked Yadier Molina. Bases loaded.

Still Burnett could not put his breaking ball in the strike zone, walking Jon Jay for another run. He closed by serving up a bases clearing single to David Freese, with the help of Marlon Byrd’s throwing error.

The Cardinals were ahead 7-0. The party for fans in red was already rocking. The day for A.J. Burnett was over with no outs in the 3rd inning.

Boil it down to one pitch: Burnett’s curveball. He throws it to get hitters to swing and miss, but St. Louis only whiffed once on the 21 curves they saw. In the end, he allowed six hits and four walks but no strikeouts.

“If I don’t establish that curveball for a strike, or a swing-and-a-miss pitch, and if I’m not commanding the fastball — and I obviously wasn’t going that either — it’s going to be a long day,” Burnett said.

Even if the Pirates wanted to test our Gateway Arch Location Theory, the government shut down the monument. Maybe it’s for the best. Given Burnett’s luck in St. Louis, he would get trapped in one of the elevators.

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James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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