Tuesday, July 31, 2012

AJ, Walker Double Team Cubs 5-0

Well, they weren't crushing the ball early against Casey Coleman, but after a Starling Marte K, Travis Snider and Cutch dinked back-to-back infield knocks. Garrett Jones worked a 3-2 walk to load the bases for Neil Walker. The Kid got ahead 2-1, seeing heaters, and then bopped a changeup that ran over the plate, clearing the wall in right by a couple of rows, and the Bucs were up 4-0. Pedro caught a heater away and doubled the opposite way. Rod Barajas fanned and Clint Barmes popped out, and AJ Burnett climbed the bump. It took him nine pitches to put away the Cubs.

Coleman had better luck in the second, shutting down the Pirates 1-2-3. The lake wind helped; blowing in tonight, it held Marte's blast to center in the yard for a long, loud out. AJ threw clean, too, and is at a very economical 19 pitches through two frames.

Cutch opened the third by knocking a curve to left for his second hit of the night. Jones turned on a low slider and drove it to right to put Bucs on the corners. Cutch was off on contact, and The Kid's grounder to first nailed him at the plate. Pedro singled on a 407' ball to the center field wall as the Pirates ran a comedy routine on the bases. Jones stayed near second to tag, then made the wide turn at third and came back while Walker was steaming his way to the bag. Walker was tagged out with two guys on the same sack, and the Bucs ended up with runners at second and third and no runs in classic Keystone Kop style. Rod Barajas walked, but Barmes grounded out to kill a golden opportunity to add on. Didn't bother AJ, though. He just kept dealing, with nine Cubbies down in a row on 30 pitches.

Pittsburgh went down in order in the fourth.  Anthony Rizzo became the first Chi-Town runner when he walked on a 3-2 pitch with two away. AJ answered by K'ing Alfonso Soriano. With one down in the fifth, Jones drew a 3-2 walk. Walker tried to jack another, but it was a long out to right. Pedro walked on four pitches, and that was it for Coleman. Steve Maine took the ball and got Hot Rod to fly out to right. AJ continued business as usual; three Cubs up, three down - and 52 pitches through five.

Maine sank the Bucs in the sixth.  AJ lost David Dejesus with two down on a 3-2 pitch and stole second. he stayed there as Castro flew out, though AJ had to labor for the first time tonight.

Snider was issued a four pitch free pass to open the seventh. Cutch fell behind 0-2, took a couple of chase pitches, and sent a changeup into right center for a two bagger, with Snider stopping at third. Maine worked Jones away, eventually getting him to chase a curve for a swinging K. Walker lifted a curve to left, plating Snider and moving Cutch to third when the throw escaped C Clevenger. That play brought Jeff Beliveau to the hill, and he caught Pedro looking. No sweat for AJ in the seventh; he mowed down the middle of the Cub order, helped by a sweet grab at first by Jones on Bryan LaHair's ball, and has his pitch count back in order at 80 through seven frames.

Beliveau tucked away the bottom of the Pittsburgh lineup in the eighth. With an out, Darwin Barney ducked into a hook and took it square in the helmet, leaving the game for Jeff Baker, who stole second. AJ picked up a K, but rookie call-up Adrian Cardenas cleanly golfed a 3-2 sinker into right to put runners on the corners and break up the no-no.

After the hit, AJ muttered a few choice words and gestured at plate ump Jeff Nelson after missing calls with a couple of previous pitches just outside the black (he later said that was just frustration -"he called a great game. I stayed with the hook away, and got some calls. I would loved to have had that one.")  The Chicago fans showed they appreciated their baseball, giving Burnett an ovation.  He K'ed David DeJesus after the knock to end the frame.

Marte opened the ninth against Shawn Camp by reaching on a Castro error and going to third on a stolen base and misthrow. But a pair of not very professional at bats by Snider and Cutch and a ground out by Jones left him there. AJ blew through the Cubs in the last frame, whiffing Soriano to end the game on a high note.

AJ threw a complete game shutout, giving up a hit, two walks, a beaned batter and whiffing eight on 108 pitches (his season high) for his 13th win. In case there was any question who the Pirate ace and stopper is, tonight emphatically answered that question. AJ provided the arm and Neil Walker's 5 RBI the lumber. And they needed it; the Reds won too, 7-6, keeping the Bucs three games behind in the Central.

A couple of thoughts: On the sunny side, Cutch and Starling Marte cover some acreage. On one gap shot, they were both there, almost knocking heads. On the shady side, the Pirates need to tighten up with RISP; they were 2-for-12 tonight and have been pretty undisciplined with runners on for much of the month. They're not gonna get grand slams and three run knocks every night.

Jeff Karstens faces Travis Wood in tomorrow afternoon's getaway game.

  • This was the first Buc one-hitter since Todd Ritchie tossed one in 2001 against KC. For AJ, it was his first one hitter and shutout since 2006. The outing was Burnett’s 10th career shutout. He is now 6-0 lifetime against the Cubs and 4-0 at Wrigley Field. And finally, tonight was the ninth time this season that Burnett has worked >7 innings in a start.
  • Neil Walker is 14-for-29 with two home runs and 38 RBI with the bases loaded.
  • The Pirates played a man short tonight, with Gaby Sanchez expected to join the team tomorrow to replace Casey McGehee.
  • Why no Hunter Pence in Pittsburgh? Greg Brown on Root Sports said it would have taken Brad Lincoln & Starling Marte to pry him away from Philly. Some of the best trades are the ones you don't make...
  • Altoona's Gerrit Cole went six scoreless innings, giving up three hits and a walk with six K.
  • This day in history: In 1988, July 31, 1988: Willie Stargell was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, the only inductee that year. Stargell played 21 years with the Pirates and is the all-time club leader in home runs (475) and RBI (1540). Pops played a total of 2360 games in a Pittsburgh uniform and tallied 2232 hits. He won World Series championships in 1971 and 1979, having been named MVP of the ‘79 Fall Classic. 

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