Burnett pitches complete game in 5-1 Pirates win
A.J. Burnett has said repeatedly since joining the Pirates in 2012 that he isn’t here for his statistics, but to help the team get to the playoffs.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a little personal success, especially when it comes in such dominating a fashion as Sunday’s complete-game, 5-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park.
Burnett slapped the ground after the Pirates finished off a game-ending double-play, then turned to catcher Russell Martin, whose three-run homer in the fifth inning gave the right-hander some breathing room. The two former Yankees teammates, who were reunited this year, hugged as the sellout crowd of 37,980 erupted.
“I’ve had some good ones, but being able to control everything felt good,” Burnett said of the outing. “Russ called a great game, and he came through. He’s always bragging about how he used to hit when I pitched, so he was happy that he did today. Great defense all the way, and it was a good follow-up taking the ball behind (Francisco Liriano on Saturday). You just want to repeat what he did and pass the baton to the next guy.”
Burnett held the Rockies scoreless until Jonathan Herrera hit a two-out RBI single in the seventh inning.
Manager Clint Hurdle said it’s the best he has seen the right-hander pitch all season.
“Best stuff, best command, focus, rhythm, tempo, pitch efficiency,” Hurdle said. “Fourteen guys retired on three pitches or less, 26 of 33 first-pitch strikes. Numbers off the charts.”
Burnett (5-7) finished at 110 pitches. He allowed eight hits, struck out nine and walked one in his first complete game of the season and the 23rd of his career. He gave up a one-out single to Michael Cuddyer in the ninth — closer Mark Melancon was warming up in the bullpen — before Todd Helton grounded into the double play.
Burnett entered the game with a 2.86 ERA, but he has been a victim of poor run support — three runs per game in his first 19 starts. He also hadn’t gotten a win since June 8 at Chicago, with four no-decisions in his previous five starts since coming off the disabled list July 7 with a right calf strain.
The Pirates took a 1-0 first-inning lead on Andrew McCutchen’s RBI single, and were poised to bust the game open in the third. With the bases loaded and no outs, Martin hit a grounder to third. Third baseman DJ LeMahieu stepped on the bag and McCutchen, who was at second, was out but continued on to third and stood on the base.
LeMahieu threw home to catcher Yorvit Torrealba, but Walker knew the force had been removed and went back to third. Torrealba, unaware that LeMahieu stepped on third, chased Walker and tagged him. But the Pirates’ second baseman was safe and scored on a sacrifice fly by Garrett Jones.
“Extremely good baserunning, smart awareness to keep the inning alive,” Hurdle said.
With runners on first and second, one out and starter Juan Nicasio at 103 pitches in the fifth, Rockies manager Walt Weiss decided to make a pitching change.
Manny Corpas delivered his first pitch of the game, and Martin knocked it into the left field seats for his 10th homer.
“We hadn’t really had that much run support for (Burnett) throughout the year,” Martin said. “I was looking at his numbers, and I think he has a better ERA than (Detroit’s Max) Scherzer, and Scherzer’s 16-1. But he goes out there and competes. He’s a gamer. It was just nice to get him some runs and give him some support.”
After losing two games in a row, the Pirates have won two straight with an off-day Monday before the Miami Marlins come to town.
Sunday’s game was the 12th sellout of the year and brought the series attendance to 113,891, the third-largest, three-date series crowd in PNC Park history.
“It’s been a great season all around, packing this place in,” Burnett said. “They know what’s at stake, and they know what kind of team we have. They know it’s different. … They’re in every pitch, too, and the A.J. chants give you goosebumps on the mound in the ninth inning. It was fun.”