If you're a Pirates fan, this one had everything you could want. Great pitching, stunning defense, and walk-off heroics.
It was the kind of afternoon that made one forget all the things in addition to the game that make a trip to PNC Park one the best ways to spend a day. The incredible view of downtown, the perfectly manicured field glowing green in the summer sun and racing pierogies all went unnoticed, as baseball captivated the crowd at PNC Park in the special way that only it can.
"Just an old fashioned baseball game broke out here on the North Shore today," Clint Hurdle said of the game afterwards. And this old fashioned game created a terrific old fashioned experience at the park.
A.J. Burnett throws nine shutout innings
A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels provided a gripping pitcher's duel. While Hamels was overpowering and confusing Pirates hitters, Burnett relied on pounding the strike zone, inducing ground balls and slick defense.
Neither pitcher allowed a run over their 16 innings pitched. They combined to strike out 16 and walk only two.
Burnett ended up allowing only five hits over his nine innings pitched. He struck out four and threw 11 groundouts.
"Pitch efficiency all over the place," Hurdle said of Burnett's performance. "18 guys retired on three pitches or less, which got him through the ninth inning. Just wonderful to watch him, absolutely outstanding today."
Burnett credited the defense behind him for helping him breeze through the nine innings.
"It was probably one of the funnest games I've pitched in, in a while," Burnett said. "We had guys diving out in right, diving out in center, third base, first base. Just a fun game to pitch. I just pitched to early contact and keeping the ball down and watching what these guys can do behind me."
Burnett's nine shutout innings lowered his ERA to 1.89. He is 0.18 runs behind Gerrit Cole, who leads the National League.
"Is he still ahead of me?" Burnett deadpanned, when told he and Cole ranked at the top of the league. "It's fun. I tell him, and I don't know if he believes me yet, when you watch what he does and I get to come out behind him, it's motivation. It makes me want to go a little more."
When the last out of the ninth inning was made, A.J. Burnett was standing near first base. As he turned and slowly walked to the dugout, the fans began one of the loudest walk-off cheers for a pitcher you're ever likely to hear. As he crossed the third base line, Burnett raised his arm and acknowledged the crowd.
"Anytime I get a chance to [acknowledge the crowd] I'm going to," Burnett said. "They watch, they know the game. I think it started before I even got to the foul line. I kind of looked up and it got louder and I raised the hand up. I feel like when the crowd is like that you got to acknowledge it. It fires me up."
Burnett's 80 game score makes 23 Bill James Gems for the Pirates, the most in the league.
An afternoon filled with shake-your-head in disbelief defensive plays began in the first.
"Somebody in the dugout said 'routine," Hurdle said, describing the scene after McCutchen's catch. "I kind of kidded and said, 'That's not routine, kid. That's skills.'"
In the top of the fifth, Sean Rodriguez did his best Josh-Harrison-in-Yankee-Stadium impression.
"I mean, he's horizontal to the ground, completely laid out, it's a good break, direct route all of it," Hurdle said. "Stat cast will be able to review it and see the angle he took. Fantastic play. The guy is really, really good."
Harrison said he didn't think about comparing that catch to some of the ones he made last year because he was too busy admiring the play.
"To be honest I didn't think anything about some of the catches I've made," Harrison said smiling. "I saw when it was hit, and I saw the jump he got and I said, 'He's about to make this catch.' And when he caught it, I couldn't do anything but throw my hands up. It was a great play."
In the seventh, Jung-Ho Kang made a brilliant play nabbing a hard ground ball that was otherwise headed down the line for extra bases.
"We made some excellent defensive plays behind A.J.," Hurdle said. "Today guys on defense, from McCutchen to Rodriguez, Harrison, the second pitch of the game, Kang fielded a really tricky hard grounder down the third base line."
Harrison provides walk-off single
Harrison hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning that scored Neil Walker, emptied the Pirates dugout and led to the last standing ovation of the day.
"Anytime you get a walk-off, it's always fun," Harrison said. "You never want it to get down that point. You'd like to get the lead before your last at-bat. But that's one thing about this team: it can be a different guy every night. That's what we've proved."