When Jeff Locke talked to A.J. Burnett before Friday's game, he told his mentor and friend that he was "in the big leagues for life now." After beating Burnett in a much-anticipated pitching matchup at PNC Park this afternoon, Locke took another step toward making that assertion a reality.
Since rejoining the club on June 8, Locke has pitched like a staff ace, posting a 2.23 ERA and a 5-1 record in 44.1 innings pitched. Today he allowed only three hits and one earned run in eight innings of work.
Josh Harrison, who became an All-Star this evening, contributed the game-winning run in today's 6-2 victory. He led off the third inning with a triple to right-center and scored on Neil Walker's sacrifice fly.
Just as Harrison contributed over 1.0 WAR in a month while stabilizing right field in May, Jeff Locke has now added 0.8 WAR after being called up to help plug holes that emerged in the Pirates' rotation in June. Both players have filled in and provided contributions far beyond what anyone would have projected. They are two huge reasons why the Pirates have surged back into the playoff hunt and if they continue to perform well, they will provide a couple more reasons to be bullish about these Bucs as they march deeper into the second half of the season.
Burnett talks about Pittsburgh return
As Burnett strolled out to take the mound in the first inning of tonight's game, the scoreboard in left field played highlights of right-hander's time in Pittsburgh. Burnett watched the whole thing, even delaying his warmup pitches until it ended. When the crowd gave him a standing ovation, Burnett took off his cap waved to the crowd and pointed to the Bucs' dugout.
"The video and everything caught me by surprise," Burnett said in a quiet Phillies' clubhouse. "I don't know what else to say about it. It was moving, for sure."
"[The fans] made me feel at home. [The ovation] caught me off guard. I didn't know what to expect coming in. Very classy."
Burnett add that it made him feel good to see how Locke is pitching.
"You don't to see him do it against us. I obviously wanted to see us come out and beat him, but you see how he is taking the ball, you see his approach, you see how he is just confident, that's what he is. He's done it in the past and now he's back up and that's what he's doing."
Today's game had a different feel
Locke said pitching against Burnett made today's game feel very different.
"It didn't even feel like we were playing a major-league baseball game," Locke said. "We spoke really briefly before we got in the bullpen, just told each other to have fun today, go get ‘em. Pound down."
Pirates finally get a sweep
With today's win, the Pirates netted their first elusive sweep of the season. The Bucs had seven other opportunities to complete a sweep this season and fell short.
The Bucs head off to St. Louis with a 47-41 record and are now alone in second place, a half game ahead of the Cardinals and 4.5 behind the Brewers.