On a perfect-weather night in Pittsburgh, the crowd of 9,570 at PNC Park were given reason to believe they might witness perfection. A.J. Burnett set down the first 16 Cardinal hitters he faced and created quite a buzz on the North Shore along the way.
A.J. received the first of what would be three standing ovations in the top of the second when he recorded his 2,000th career strikeout against Carlos Beltran to lead off the inning. (On the night, Burnett struck out five leadoff hitters in the seven innings he worked. On the season he has now struck out 44 percent of hitters leading off an inning.)
After he recorded the milestone strikeout, the Pirates' infielders and catcher Russell Martin walked out to the mound to congratulate their veteran pitcher.
His teammates' display of respect for his accomplishment clearly was special to Burnett. "Thank Neil for telling the infield to come in, that was his idea," he said after the game. "The amount of love these guys show me is really special."
Burnett carried his perfect game into the sixth inning before hitting Daniel Descalso with a pitch. He then set down the next two Cardinals hitters to end the inning, the no-hitter still intact.
The Pirates added on their second run of the game in the bottom of frame, giving Burnett some cushion as he came out to pitch the seventh. With perfect game lost, attention turned to his no-hit bid.
Unfortunately for Pirates fans who were hoping for a little more history to be made, with one out in the seventh Carlos Beltran hit a double deep into the right field gap to break up the no-hitter. Beltran had already been part of history, having been Burnett's 2,000th strikeout victim, in the seventh he prevented more history from being made at his expense.
After the ball was returned to him, the crowd gave Burnett his second standing ovation of the night.
In the bottom of the seventh Burnett's third standing ovation commenced after Alex Presley was announced as his pinch hitter.
After the cheering for Burnett died down, the Pirates' bats (along with my new friend the vuvuzela blower, who sits in the section right below me) took over. The Pirates added three more runs in the final two innings, and cruised to a 5-0 win.
Offensively, the Pirates again showed some punch tonight, with 11 hits. Although the Cardinals' promising young starter, Shelby Miller, quieted the Pirates' bats most of the night, recording 15 consecutive outs after allowing a run in the first, the Bucs hitters got to him in the sixth, scoring a run and driving his pitch count up to 98. When Miller was removed for a pinch hitter in the seventh, the Pirates feasted on the Cardinals bullpen, scoring three runs off the combination of Trevor Rosenthal and Randy Choate.
But this night belonged to A.J. Burnett.
"You got to have skills. You've got to have stuff. You've got to have dependability. You got to go to the post for a long time," Clint Hurdle said of Burnett's milestone. "If you're just a thrower, you don't get 2,000 strikeouts."
After coming close to his second career no-hitter for the second time in two years, AJ Burnett was asked if he wanted another no-hitter before his career was over.
"Yeah, the other one's ugly, man! I need one that doesn't have nine walks in it. I try every time. I'm not going to lie to you. I take the mound with the mindset I'm going to throw one today."
In the end, Burnett's second no-hitter eluded him again, but between the recognition his teammates showed him and the three standing ovations, it was hard to imagine a better night. Indeed, some might have called it perfect.
- Starling Marte again led off the game with a hit, this time a triple. When leading off the game, Marte is now hitting .615/.643/.923 1.566 OPS
- Melancon pitched a clean eighth, and Grilli recorded the final out the game. Between them their pitching line reads 15 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 17 K, 0.60 ERA.
- Pedro Alvarez went 1-for-4, with one strikeout. His season average is now .089/.180/.089.