Friday, May 25, 2012

Burnett, Bullpen Baffle Cubs 1-0

AJ Burnett got the game rollin'. Starlin Castro legged out an infield knock with an out, rolling one up the middle that The Kid gloved but couldn't turn. Joe Mather followed by dropping a single into right to put runners at first and second. No prob; Brian LaHair and Alphonso Soriano went down swinging. The only bad thing was it took AJ 27 pitches to get through the frame.

The Bucs went quietly against Ryan Dempster. JT lined a ball to right, where David DeJesus made a nice over-the-head grab. Josh Harrison flew out, and Cutch, facing a shift, tried to go the opposite way but popped up to short center.

Darwin Barney singled with one away in the second and swiped a sack, just getting under the tag. A grounder moved him to the hot corner, where he died after Burnett K'ed his mound opponent.

Pedro lined a single to right to open the Pirate half. An out later, Matt Hague tapped back to the mound. Dempster bobbled and then dropped the ball, turning a routine DP into a 1-3. It bit him in a hurry when Rod Barajas singled sharply to right; Alvarez went back door on his belly and swiped the plate with his hand to score against a strong throw and put Pittsburgh up 1-0.

DeJesus lined a knock to right to open the third.  He was going on a 3-2 pitch to Castro, who topped the ball right in front of the plate and was tagged out. He couldn't believe it wasn't foul (and it wasn't) and spent a good part of the inning talking to himself on the bench. A strikeout and grounder kept the Cubs off the board. AJ could use an easy inning; his pitch count is sitting at 60.

JT started off by reaching on a boot by third baseman Adrian Cardenas, his second error of the game. Harrison then banged a ball off Cardenas' chest and traded places with JT on the bases on the forceout. He stole second, but Dempster K'ed Cutch and Pedro swinging to end the inning without damage.

Burnett threw a clean fourth inning with a pair of whiffs. Hague singled into the second base hole with an out, but was stranded thanks in part by a nice running grab by Soriano on a ball slicing away from him off Barajas' bat.

The streak of eight straight Cubbies down was broken when Dejesus drew a two-out, 3-2 walk. Castro followed by dumping a soft knock into left center; he has two hits without hitting the ball hard enough to scramble an egg. With runners on the corners, Castro stole second; with two outs, the Pirates opted not to defend against it. That strategy nearly paid off for Chicago when Mather shot a hard one hopper towards the SS hole, but Pedro dove to cut it off and fired a bullet to save AJ's bacon. But he's up to 93 pitches on a muggy night and is due to lead off, so it's decision time for Clint Hurdle.

Burnett will get another go; he popped out. JT lined one to first, and Harrison drilled a two-out knock into left and stole second. Cutch walked on a 3-2 pitch. Pedro battled to a full count and then nubbed a ball a foot or two in front of home for the inning-ending 2-3.

Well, AJ actually isn't going to finish the sixth. After an out, a Soriano knock followed by a walk to Cardenas ended his day. He went 5-1/3, surrendering six hits and a pair of walks to go with six K while tossing 105 pitches. Jared Hughes took the ball. He went 3-2 on Darwin Barney and AJ caught a break when a Barney bouncer to third was broken up by Soriano, who plowed into Pedro. The interference call put runners at first and second instead of second and third, and the point became moot when Koyie Hill grounded out.

With two away, Barajas beat the shift by dumping a single to right. Clint Barmes followed with a line shot to left. But the two out lightning faded quickly when pinch hitter Casey McGehee, first pitch swinging, bounced out on a routine grounder to short.

It was Jason Grilli's turn to climb the hill. He struck out the side, just as he did against the Mets during his last outing on Wednesday and now has seven straight punchouts. Dempster almost matched him, putting down the Bucs in order while striking out Harrison and Cutch swinging.

Out trotted Juan Cruz for the eighth. He fooled Mather on a fastball, but he got enough of it to roll it the opposite way for a knock. After a strikeout of LaHair, Cruz picked a dancing Mather off first. Just on time, too, as Soriano dropped a flare into center and pitch runner Tony Campana stole second on a pitchout when Barmes tag was high; he is that fast. With Campana going, Cardenas rolled one to The Kid to end the frame.

With one out in the Buc half, Neil Walker doubled high off the Clemente Wall. Dempster was sent to the showers, and lefty James Russell came on to face Garrett Jones, who rolled out to short on the first pitch on a check swing. Barajas popped out, and it was Hanny time.

With two strikes, Barney fought off a tight heater and sliced it into right for a knock. Hill tried to bunt and bounced a one-hopper to Hanrahan, who got the force. It was a huge play when pinch hitter Reed Johnson slapped an outside heater into right to put runners on the corners. Hanny reached back and got DeJesus looking at a backdoor slider, and then got Castro swinging at a down and away slider. And hey - for a change, the Bucs won 1-0. It was Burnett's third win and Hanny's 11th save.

Burnett didn't have command, but he did have poise tonight. And the Pirate bullpen is proving to be the MLB version of the Marines; they race toward the gunfire and quiet the noise. The teams combined for 17 hits, but the Pirates stranded nine and the Cubs eleven. In essence, the game hinged on a pair of comebackers; Dempster bobbled his chance, and Hanny didn't. That's the way it goes when runs are at such a premium for both clubs.

Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia get the call tomorrow.

  • Josh Harrison has a ten game hitting streak going on.
  • Jason Grilli has the season-starting record for relief appearances with a K with 19. That also ties him with Octavio Dotel for the Bucco record of most consecutive outings with a K from the pen.

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