The afternoon got off to a great start when we were surprised to see this on Twitter:
The #Pirates have reinstated RHP A.J. Burnett from the 15-day DL & he will start the game tonight in Pittsburgh vs St. Louis.—
Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) April 21, 2012
Despite the poor weather in Pittsburgh, we were pumped to see Burnett’s debut and went to PNC with a hop in our step.
However, the grounds crew removed the tarp and started prepping the field around 6:00 pm. Shortly before gametime, the man of the hour, A.J. Burnett, emerged from the dugout to stretch, long toss, and throw in the bullpen.
Here’s our video of A.J. warming up in the ‘pen:
With a light drizzle falling, the Bucs took the field, putting this lineup out behind Burnett:
Burnett took the mound and got off to a rocky start. After walking Rafael Furcal, A.J. gave up a single to Matt Carpenter and walked Matt Holliday to load the bases. With no outs, Burnett bounced back to strike out Carlos Beltran and David Freese. Yadier Molina roped a line drive, but it was right at Clint Barmes who made the catch and got Burnett out of the jam. He picked up his third strikeout in the second, followed by two groundouts to get a 1-2-3 inning. Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook was perfect through two, and Burnett went into the third with 31 pitches. He set the Cards down in order for the second straight inning, striking out his fourth batter.
In the bottom of the 3rd, Barajas singled to right, bringing up Burnett for his first at-bat as a Pirate:
This put the entire stadium on the edge of their seat, anxious to see if A.J. would bunt after the freak accident in spring training. After squaring around, the crowd erupted with screams, hoping that Burnett wouldn’t bunt another one off his eye. Luckily, he walked on four pitches and the Pirates fanbase could relax. Cutch even tweeted about it after the game:
The fans had me weak wen yall were screamin at A.J. Burnett not to bunt.lol—
andrew mccutchen (@TheCUTCH22) April 22, 2012
After Burnett walked, Alex Presley softly grounded out to move the runners to second and third. Jose Tabata couldn’t come through though, striking out swinging. Burnett kept cruising, setting the Cardinals down 1-2-3 again in the fourth. The Bucs offense finally got something going in the bottom of the inning when Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker had back to back singles. Casey McGehee struck out, but Pedro Alvarez came through in the clutch. He lined a ball to third base, and Freese dove for it. At first, it looked like he caught it, but everyone saw the ball trickle away and Cutch broke for the plate. The RBI single was just Pedro’s third hit of the season, and his first hit that wasn’t a home run. Burnett pitched scoreless fifth and sixth innings, picking up two more strikeouts to bring his total to 7.
Pedro struck again in the bottom of the sixth, singling in Cutch after he launched a double off the right field wall. Pedro’s two RBIs would be all the Pirates scored, but they didn’t need any more to put away St. Louis.
Burnett pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, and was pinch hit for in the bottom half, ending his night. The Bucs made a questionable baserunning mistake in the seventh when Alex Presley and Jose Tabata took off for second and third with Cutch at the plate. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who is regarded as one of the best in the game, threw out Tabata, taking the bat out of the Pirates best hitter. It was a dumb baseball move to not give Cutch the chance to hit, but also an impressive play by Molina to throw out the back end runner. Juan Cruz was the first reliever out of the pen, and he gave up two singles to start the eighth. After Cruz got the first out on a sac bunt, Tony Watson came out to face the lefty Carpenter. Watson struck him out, and Jason Grilli came in to get the thrid out. He struck out Holliday swinging, keeping the Cardinals shut out through eight.
Joel Hanrahan made his first appearance since last Sunday, coming back from a hamstring injury. After striking out Beltran, Hanrahan walked two batters in a row. A visit from pitching coach Ray Searage seemed to calm Hammer down because he came back with his second strikeout of the inning. He then got the next batter to ground out to Pedro, who stepped on third as the Jolly Roger was raised.
- Burnett’s final line was 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 7 K, 2 BB, and 76 pitches.
- Pedro had a very nice night at the plate, picking up two hits and RBI, and also making solid contact on a deep flyout.
- The pitching staff was absolutely awsome tonight, with the exception of Cruz. Even when Cruz got himself in a jam, Watson and Grilli were there to pick him up.
Tonight’s Baseball Quiz:
Q: Who is the only other Pirate to hit an inside-the-park home run at PNC Park?
A: Jack Wilson
Star of the Game: A.J. Burnett. Burnett’s first start as a Pirate was about as good as it could be. His seven shutout innings made the bullpen’s job easy, and the four relievers that pitched helped A.J. pick up his first win.
Goat of the Game: Matt Holliday. Holliday struck out three times, twice with runners on. The Pirates pitching staff was so good that there weren’t many scoring chances for the Cardinals, but Holliday had a huge chance in the eighth but couldn’t come through.
Burnett’s debut helped turn a dreary and rainy night in the Burgh into an exciting one. Pedro and A.J. had big nights, but most importantly, the Bucs got the win. Tomorrow’s game will determine the series winner, and hopefully the Pirates can build up some momentum.
Pirates (6-8) – Cardinals (10-5)
Win: Burnett (1-0)
Loss: Westbrook (2-1)
Save: Hanrahan (2)