It’s hardly even a surprise anymore: AJ Burnett shut down the other team’s offense while the Pirates’ offense scored a lot of runs. Today’s 13-2 win over the Giants is what we’re getting used to. “We were good all over the board today,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “Just a good finish.”
Burnett pitched 6.1 strong innings, not giving up a run until the 7th inning. He was visibly frustrated as he walked off the field in the 7th but raised a triumphant fist in response to the packed crowd’s standing ovation. “I’m proud to be able to take the mound for these guys,” Burnett said after the game. A bloop single to left was all the Giants managed until the 6th inning. The Giants started off the 6th with a pinch-hit single from Nate Schierhotlz, who was then left stranded after 3 quick outs. At one point, Burnett retired 13 straight batters. Buster Posey led off the 7th inning with a double, and Pablo Sandoval followed that with a homer. A flyout and a walk later, Brad Lincoln came in to replace Burnett. Overall, AJ gave up 2 runs on 4 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5. The Pirates have now won 12 straight with AJ on the mound, who improved to 10-2 today with a 3.68 ERA. “AJ was very effective, very efficient today,” Clint Hurdle said. “We needed a good outing.” Brad Lincoln pitched 2.2 perfect innings to finish the game.
The Pirates scored at least 1 run in every inning besides the 2nd. Neil Walker had himself quite a day, going a perfect 5 for 5, just a triple short of the cycle. “I’m very excited about it, you can’t really tell,” Walker said after the game. “I’m stepping into the box and having confidence and trying not to do too much.” He drove in 2 runs, including a solo homer in the 3rd, and scored 4. “I feel good, but I’m obviously more happy with how we’re playing as a team,” Walker said. Andrew McCutchen homered twice, going 3 for 5 and driving in 4 runs while scoring 3. “It’s been an amazing first half for me, but I couldn’t do it without the support of the team and how they’ve been doing,” Cutch said after the game. Cutch still leads the majors with his .362 average and also has 18 homeruns and 60 RBIs. “Wherever they throw it I just throw my hands at it,” Cutch said. He also mentioned the fan support: “It was amazing, just to have that, just to go out and get support from the fans. They’ve been great. They’re just as hungry as we are for a winning team.” Hurdle said, “He’s learned himself very well. He knows where his strengths are. He’s done a very good job of staying on the ball.” Casey McGehee was 3-4 with 2 RBIs and a run scored but left the game in the 6th inning with a mild left groin strain. Not much else is known yet, but hopefully the All-Star break is enough rest. Rod Barajas was back and healthy, going 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a HBP (from his old roommate Brad Penny).
Andrew McCutchen is headed to Kansas City, along with Joel Hanrahan, while the rest of the team rests. Tomorrow Cutch will participate in the Homerun Derby, and Tuesday he’ll be a reserve for the All-Star Game. “It’s definitely gonna be fun,” Cutch said. “I’m just gonna breathe it all in and remember this moment.” Some would say the homerun derby messes up a hitter’s swing; Hurdle isn’t worried. “Who’s to say that’s why you do [drop off offensively]? Depends on who you are. Embrace it and enjoy the ride. I’m all for it.”
“This was a good series for us as a team,” Neil Walker said. “I can’t think of a better way to go into the All-Star break than with a 6-1 homestand.”
“We’ve worked hard to get where we are; we’ve earned it,” Hurdle said. “We’re confident about our abilities and strengths, and we know the areas that we need to work hard to improve.”
So what does the second half look like? “It feels different this year. It feels more real, more powerful,” Walker said. He specifically mentioned the difference that AJ Burnett, Rod Barajas, and Clint Barmes have made: “When you have veteran leadership like that, it helps us all out. We’re at a good place as a team. We’re confident.”
The Pirates go into the All-Star break in 1st place and face Milwaukee their first series back. “We’ll regroup in Milwaukee for an evening workout and then go,” Hurdle says. Something about those words has me unbelievably excited.
“Why not now?” is Cutch’s trademark saying. “Why not us? Why not the Pirates this year?”