A.J. Burnett. Wow. In a night that brought back memories from Wrigley Field last July, Burnett was absolutely stellar for the Bucs and flirted with history before coming up just short. Well, he still did make some history, as he recorded his 2000th career strikeout in the second inning. It was a special night for A.J. and a great night for the Bucs, who played an excellent game and defeated the Cardinals 5-0 to split a rain-shortened series.
Burnett had been striking out hitters at a torrid pace coming in to Wednesday’s game, but he was having problems keeping his pitch count low and working deep in to games. Fortunately for him, pitch efficiency isn’t much of an issue when you retire every batter you face. That’s what A.J. did for the first 5.1 innings until he hit Daniel Descalso with a pitch. Since he was in to the sixth inning, there was a lot of attention on his perfect game bid that came to a somewhat bizarre end…but he still had a chance at a no-hitter.
Burnett was able to inch closer to the no-no by getting through the sixth and then two outs in the seventh, but then he left a breaking ball up to Carlos Beltran and paid for it as Beltran hammered it into the gap. AJ got his second big ovation of the night as his no-hit bid came to a close, but he still had work to do with the tying run at the plate and the Bucs up just 2-0. He was able to retire Yadier Molina to end the threat and complete seven brilliant innings of shutout and one-hit ball. While it stinks to see him denied in another close call, it was still an absolutely fantastic outing and an important win for the team. These kind of nights really make you appreciate what AJ has been able to do for this team over the past year-plus.
To my family, teammates, and all the fans,…THANK YOU! #STFD #BUCN #RAISEIT
— AJ Burnett (@wudeydo34) April 18, 2013
The rest of the team also put together a strong performance to make sure AJ was able to come away with his first win of the year. Starling Marte led off the game with a triple and scored on Travis Snider‘s blooper. Andrew McCutchen had two hits and scored twice. Neil Walker delivered a big RBI single to make it 2-0 in the sixth, and also doubled earlier in the game. Heck, even Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez delivered important base hits to help add on to the lead. Shelby Miller put together a pretty strong start for the Cardinals, but the Pirates were able to do enough against him and the Cardinal bullpen to earn a comfortable victory.
The Pirates’ bullpen finished the job for AJ with no problems at all, setting six Cardinals down in order to complete the one-hit shutout. The defense deserves a mention as well–Snider, Walker and Clint Barmes all made dazzling plays.
Burnett has come close twice with the Bucs, but don’t forget that he already has a no-hitter to his credit (all the way back in 2001).
AJ threw 101 pitches, which is why he came out after the seventh.
Marte’s leadoff triple extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
It’s a split with St. Louis, which isn’t a bad outcome at all considering how hot the Cards were coming in to this series. The Bucs are now 4-1 on the homestand and have continued to play pretty good baseball ever since leaving Los Angeles, with the exception of two awful starts by McDonald and Sanchez. They sit at 7-7 (and 1 game out of first), which is perfectly acceptable given the tough schedule they’ve faced. Again, it doesn’t get any easier with the Atlanta Braves coming in to town for four games this weekend. The Bravos are the consensus top team in baseball here in the early going, so the Bucs will really have to stay hot to continue this solid stretch.
Pirates 5, Cardinals 0 / Box / 2013 Record: 7-7 / Next: Thursday, vs. Braves, 7:05