A.J. Burnett followed up Francisco Liriano’s seven strong innings with his own quality start. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
SAN DIEGO — The one-two punch of Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett turned around the Pirates’ bad-luck losses by leading the charge on back-to-back wins.
“Obviously you’re not gonna punch out 13 like [Liriano],” Burnett said. “At the same time you want to go out, keep your team in it and keep it rolling.”
The two staff aces each delivered a seven-inning pitching gem, and Burnett gave up just one run Tuesday night in the Bucs’ 8-1 win over the San Diego Padres. Coming off his worst two-start combination of the year, allowing five earned runs in each outing, the veteran sliced through the Padres’ lineup for his first road win since June 8.
“Man, I don’t even remember the last start,” Burnett said. “I had guys diving left and right behind me today.”
It was also Burnett’s first victory in San Diego since his 2001 no-hitter at Qualcomm Stadium. The Padres’ dropped in four hits on him Tuesday night, but the defense turned 15 of 19 batted balls into outs. In six of Burnett’s seven innings, he did not allow any San Diego baserunners into scoring position, and his only mistake pitch was a 1-2 fastball that rookie Jedd Gyorko blasted into the left-field seats for his 14th home run.
Burnett also had to navigate a Pedro Alvarez bobbling error at third base, a Will Venable single and a two-out walk to get out of the 3rd inning. Burnett used a dropping curveball to strike out strong-hitting Yonder Alonso and leave the bases loaded.
“[I] just tried to stay hard in,” Burnett said. “I finally was able to find a hook I didn’t have the first couple innings. It played in well.”
His manager called the 3rd inning “challenging,” but after Gyorko’s 4th-inning homer, Burnett retired 12 of his last 14 hitters . He exited to a standing ovation from a dense group of black-and-gold-clad, Terrible-Towel-waving Pirates fans behind the visitors’ dugout.
“We’ve got Pirates fans everywhere, coming out of the woodwork,” Burnett said. “It’s a good thing, though. It’s fun to have your fans out.”
Offense Closes The Gap
Neil Walker is hitting .329 with a .859 OPS in the month of August. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
When Burnett left in the 7th having thrown 112 pitches, those West Coast Pirates fans were out-cheering the Padres faithful. Pittsburgh’s hitters did not give the San Diego crowd much to enjoy.
Padres starter Tyson Ross entered Tuesday having pitched five straight quality starts. Neil Walker attacked right away by pummeling a hitter’s count fastball over the right-center-field fence for his 8th home run.
“I had never seen this guy,” Walker said. “I was fortunate enough to see four fastballs before I drove the one out of the ballpark.”
Russell Martin smacked another Ross fastball into the bottom of the right-field wall to score Pedro Alvarez from first base. Alvarez lasered an RBI triple (his career high third triple) to the gap in left-center in the 3rd inning and pushed the Bucs’ lead to 3-0. Manager Clint Hurdle was visibly pleased by the Bucs’ shooting the gap.
“It’s something we’ve talked about ever since I’ve been here,” Hurdle said. “This is as small as the park’s ever played. The park’s fair now. The park was a little spacious before.”
Bundled insurance arrived for the Pirates when they batted around for five runs in the 7th inning. Jordy Mercer led off by dropping in a single, and Ross walked Burnett even though the opposing pitcher was showing bunt. Reliever Dale Thayer replaced Ross, who allowed a season-worst four earned runs, and Andrew McCutchen smashed an opposite-field triple to score two runs.
Josh Harrison got the pinch-hit call with the bases loaded and got all three runners home. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Next Padres reliever Colt Hynes walked his first two batters, then pinch-hitter Josh Harrison stepped in for the chanced to pour on more runs.
“It’s bases loaded with the chance to blow the game open,” Harrison said. “Over the past year and a half I’ve learned a lot, how to approach each at-bat depending on the situation… when to be aggressive and when to work counts.”
Harrison chose aggressive, crushing his own triple to center field, clearing the bases and commanding an 8-1 Pirates lead. The three triples tied a season high, the eight runs were the most support Burnett received all year and the seven-run win marked the Pirates’ largest margin of victory on the road since May 11.
Starting Pitching Force
Vin Mazzaro and Jared Hughes wrapped up the victory with a scoreless inning each, putting the Pirates two games ahead of St. Louis for first place in the NL Central.
Hurdle recognized the value of Burnett getting “back in the right lane.” The manager’s top two starters collected 20 strikeouts to set up a potential road sweep Wednesday, which would be the team’s first since late June in Anaheim and Seattle.
“When you’re not putting the ball in play, it can make things less challenging,” Hurdle said. “When Lirano and Burnett are on their game, they can be a force, and they can beat good teams.”