AJ Burnett gave the Pirates just what they needed tonight. As if he didn’t know about the atrocity of the two previous games, he came out and shut down the Cubs. He walked 2 Cubs and hit one with a pitch, but catcher Rod Barajas was able to calm AJ right down, especially after the HBP. It wasn’t until the 8th inning with 2 outs that the Cubs managed a hit off of AJ. Of course it came off the bat of Adrian Cardenas. You know, the 24-year-old 2nd baseman who was called up earlier today and happened to be pinch hitting for pitcher Jeff Beliveau. It always seems to go that way. Rod Barajas and pitching coach Ray Searage immediately came to the mound, and Rod was seen smiling and laughing, and whatever he said to AJ caused AJ to do the same. He settled right down and struck out David DeJesus to end the inning. A perfect 9th sealed the sweet victory. AJ is now 13 and 3 with a 3.27 ERA.
“I give those guys in the clubhouse a lot of credit for the way that I am, for what I’m doing,” AJ said after the game. “I’ve really been able to sit back and find AJ Burnett again, and those guys have been a big part of it.” As he usually does, AJ handed over much of the credit to his catcher, Rod Barajas: “Having Rod back there makes it a lot easier, takes a lot of the thinking out of it.”
“He was just so efficient, pinpoint command, he pitched to lefthanders so extremely well tonight,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “One of the best games I’ve seen pitched ever.” Clint Hurdle’s strategy? “Nobody said anything about anything. We just shut up and watched him pitch.”
“It’s tough,” Rod Barajas admitted, talking about the hit finally given up in the 8th inning. “You get that far, it’s tough, as good as he was. I just wanted to try to lighten him up. We still wanted to finish that game. I didn’t want him coming out. I guarantee you he didn’t want to come out. So I just wanted to make sure we had a little smile, put it behind us, and move forward. And he absolutely did that.” Rod called this year’s AJ Burnett “a different kind of AJ Burnett than we used to have in Toronto. He just doesn’t miss as much anymore. He’s really breezing that two-seam fastball, he’s using the four-seam fastball, the curveball – it’s a pitch that he seems to have more control over. And he’s able to make adjustments. That’s the big key: he makes adjustments. He makes a couple bad pitches, all I have to do is give him a little hand signal, and he knows what he needs to do to get back on the right path. That’s what keeps those innings from getting big or him giving up runs: he’s able to make the adjustment quickly.” Rod says “it feels like this has happened five or six times, where he doesn’t give up a hit for four or five innings. That’s the way he’s been pitching all year for us. He’s been so consistent; he’s been able to do some pretty special things this year.”
The other side of the story was Neil Walker. He drove in all 5 Pirates runs tonight. It started in the 1st inning. Travis Snider’s first at-bat as a Bucco resulted in an infield single. Andrew McCutchen followed with another infield single, and Garrett Jones walked to load the bases. Neil came up and hit his 2nd career grand slam, both of which have come at Wrigley Field. “I knew the wind was blowing pretty good, but I knew I hit it pretty good,” Neil said after the game. “Sometimes you get lucky: two career grand slams, both at Wrigley Field, both left-handed. I like the friendly confines, I guess.” Travis Snider led off the 7th inning with a walk, and a few batters later, Neil drove him in with a sacrifice fly. “He was able to come through again tonight,” Hurdle said. “He has a tendency to more often than not give you a good at-bat when you need a good at-bat with runners in scoring position.” Cutch had a 3-hit night, and Pedro Alvarez had 2 hits. There was a baserunning mistake as well as a few missed opportunities to score some more runs, but the 5 runs were more than enough.
Travis Snider was 1 for 4 in his Buccos debut with a walk and 2 runs scored. He also made a nice sliding catch in the 4th inning to rob Starlin Castro of a possible hit. “Every team works hard on defense because it’s so important,” Hurdle said. “You want to play 27 outs. When it just becomes second nature that you’re just pitching and playing defense, it shortens games.”
“I’m happy to be wearing black and gold,” AJ stated after the game. So are we, AJ. So are we.