More of the same from A.J.
On a night that he was celebrating making the All-Star team for the first time, it was business as usual for A.J. Burnett off the mound. The right-hander tossed his seventh Bill James Gem and collected his 15th quality start after allowing only five hits and one run in 7 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out four.
"He made pitches and stayed in the game," Clint Hurdle said. "He kept the damage to a minimum early in the game. ... Very competitive. He just goes out there and pitches with an edge."
Burnett should have made it out of the eighth, but home plate umpire Paul Emmet called a foul tip on what should have been a swinging strike three on Derek Norris. Norris ending up knocking a single, Yangervis Solarte followed with a hit and Burnett's night came to an end.
"He poured it all out, as far as I was concerned," Hurdle said of his decision to remove Burnett in the eighth. "I wanted to put the best we had available on one of their best's and go from there."
As Hurdle left the dugout steps and the infielders slowly made their way to the mound, the crowd in PNC Park began to stand. By the time he handed over the ball, the noise was reaching a thunderous crescendo. When he reached the foul line, Burnett acknowledged the roar with a right arm pump and wave.
"It's cool," Burnett said of day at the park. "We were hoping [to get selected to the All-Star Game] and you never know. It's out of your hands, like a lot of things in this game. But I'll tell you one thing, there is no other colors I'd rather wear [to the game], that's for sure."
Burnett made it through another start without allowing a home run. It's now been 185 batters since he allowed one. The streak extends back to his June 2 start in San Francisco. Also, his ERA is now below two, 1.99.
"Focus, determination." Burnett said, when asked to explain his success this season. "My defense, my catcher. I'm in a good spot, I'm in a good place. Feel good. I'm executing pitches when I need to more than I have in a long, long time."
Alvarez game-winning hit
Pedro Alvarez drove home Andrew McCutchen with the winning run in the bottom the ninth.
"It's so good to see," Hurdle said. "The man continues to work. To do something every day to get better in some area."
As Alvarez walked towards his locker and the awaiting press members after the game, one of Burnett's sons stopped him and handed him a picture that he had drawn for the first baseman. Alvarez bent over and started smiling and laughing and told him how much he liked it. The two talked a little longer and shared a fist pump before Alvarez began his postgame comments.
"I was just trying to go out there and compete," Alvarez said of his game-winning plate appearance. "He's a pretty good pitcher. I was just trying to put good wood on the ball."
Alvarez was halfway between first and second when McCutchen scored, which prompted his teammates to pour out of the dugout and encircle him on the outfield grass.
"I knew they were coming," Alvarez said with a grin. "I'm pretty sure they were pretty anxious not to play extra innings."
Reaction to All-Star selections
"It never gets old," Hurdle said, when asked about the scene in the clubhouse as the All-Star selections were announced. "Everybody got the slow clap that builds up to a loud clap. And then we shared with them the manager's pick, which was A.J., and I don't think there was anything slow about that clap. There was a lot of hooting and hollering."
Burnett thought the team was playing a gag on him at first.
"There was a lot of clapping going on," Burnett said. "I was waiting for a ‘just kidding,' or something. But, no, we're going, so that's cool."
Today, he said, is one of the most memorable days of his long career.
"For sure. I was talking to my wife last night about it," Burnett said. "I just want to do it for my boys. Maybe shag during the home run derby or watch it on the field, so they can share that moment."
Gerrit Cole said that hasn't had time to reflect on what his selection means to him yet.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Cole said. "We got the news a few hours ago and it was right before the game. I'll sleep on it tonight. Obviously, I'm very excited and very humbled. Very appreciative for all the votes that I got. I'm looking forward to representing the National League and the Pirates."
Jeff Locke retired 19 straight batters during Saturday's game. Cole got 17 outs in a row yesterday. Tonight, Burnett retired 15 consecutive batters between the second and the seventh.
Ground outs keep coming
The Pirates converted nine ground ball outs tonight, extending their season total to a league-leading 863. A.J. Burnett leads the staff with 132. The Bucs average 10.5 ground outs a game, 1.7 more than league average.
Pirates have won eight of their last 10 games. They are 3.5 games clear for the first Wild Card spot and six games for the second.