By Bill Allmann
June 15, 2015
A.J. Burnett (34) delivers in the first inning against the Phillies in Pittsburgh on Sunday. (Gene Puskar/AP)
PITTSBURGH -- On November 14, 2014, A.J. Burnett signed a contract to return to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and signing a then 37-year-old pitcher who had led the National League in walks and losses the year before with Philadelphia raised more than an occasional eyebrow among fans.
Sunday afternoon, he raised those eyebrows again, but in a much more satisfying way, as he held his previous teammates scoreless for nine innings, setting up his current teammates to win their fourth straight game, 1-0 in 11 innings.
“He retired 18 guys in three pitches or less,” said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. “It was wonderful to watch him – absolutely outstanding. He had pitch efficiency all over the place, he had fastball command in and out.”
Burnett wasn’t on hand to record the win – that honor went to the other ex-Phillie pitcher on the roster, Anthony Bastardo, his second extra inning win of the weekend – but it was Burnett’s efforts that set up the Pirates for the win as Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels was matching Burnett zero for zero.
Burnett allowed only five hits in the nine innings and the only time a runner even reached third base was in the first inning when Jeff Francouer doubled with one out and advanced on an infield grounder. He faced just four batters over the minimum, thanks to two runners being caught stealing. Hamels was equally as stingy in his seven innings, though, allowing only one runner to reach third – when Corey Hart was hit by a pitch to force the bases loaded in the fourth inning with two outs.
“I enjoyed Cole as a teammate and I was looking forward to pitching against him,” Burnett said. “He’s a competitor like me. He continues to work on his game every game, he’s never content.
“It was a fun all-around game.”
Although the effort didn’t put a win in Burnett’s personal win column - that still stands at 6-2 as he has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 13 starts. He also allowed the Pirates to win their 18th game in the last 25 and maintain the third best record in the National League.
“Words can’t describe what he has done,” said Josh Harrison, who had the game winning hit in the 11th inning. “It’s really fun to watch.”
Burnett’s effort also pushed his Earned Run Average down to 1.89, lower than any starter on any other team in the league and lower than all but one other starter on the other 29 teams in the major leagues… but still not the best on the Pirates.
Gerrit Cole leads the team (and the league) with a 1.71 mark.
“He’s still ahead of me?” joked Burnett. “Really, watching him do what he does and and then I come out and pitch behind him, that motivates me.”
And a motivated Burnett is most definitely a fan favorite and fans make their appreciation known of his efforts, and his willingness to come back to Pittsburgh. As he walked off the mound after pitching nine innings and throwing 101 pitches – 71 of them strikes, most of the 34,518 fans in attendance rose in appreciation.
He responded himself, raising his glove in appreciation.
“You’ve got to acknowledge an ovation like that,” Burnett said. “It started before I even got to the foul line and anytime I get a chance, I acknowledge them.
“They’ve always been good to me here.”
The combination obviously works.
More about Pirates Baseball
- ARTICLE: Pirates win walkoff again
- ARTICLE: Three Thoughts: "Big Data Baseball" chronicles Pirates' turnaround
- ARTICLE: Stat Corner: Burnett falls short of Pirates' record
- ARTICLE: Minor League Report: Diaz, Sanchez splitting time at Indy