(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Remember the last time the Pirates were in town? It was last July for the four-game series that actually felt more like six games. That’s because of the 19-inning marathon that lasted until 1:50 a.m. in the second game of the series, and ended with home plate umpire Jerry Meals calling Julio Lugo safe on a play at the plate whenever everyone else could see catcher Michael McKenry had swipe tagged him on the shin.
Meals acknowledged the next afternoon that he’d missed the call, but the damage was done.
The night proved to be pretty devastating for the Pirates, who had been 53-48 before that game, off to one of their best starts in ages. But from that day forward, after the six hour 39-minute marathon, they were 19-42. If the hurricane bound for New York got the Braves season off track in early September, that late night on July 26 at Turner Field seemed to do the same for the Pirates.
The 4-3 win didn’t come without a major price for the Braves too. Catcher Brian McCann strained his oblique muscle that night and wasn’t the same for the final six weeks of the season.
Time to make some new memories here this weekend with the four-game wrap-around series, Friday through Monday. But one more thing before we start looking ahead – don’t tell your friends who are Pirates fans what the Braves will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of this year, and whose bobblehead they’ll be handing out to the first 20,000 fans on June 9. Just let that one, er, …slide.
Second in the majors
One thing that’s new and different about the Pirates is how well they’re pitching. How many people would have guessed the Pirates’ staff is second in all of baseball with a 2.58 ERA? Take a second for that to sink in.
New additions A.J. Burnett and Eric Bedard are doing their part, and the Braves will see both in the first two games of the series. (Bedard, who goes Saturday night, is actually 0-4 but with a 2.63 ERA. The Pirates have scored a grand total of three runs for him in those four starts!)
But let’s talk Burnett. He was traded from Yankees on the first day of spring training then fractured his orbital bone on Feb. 29 in a freak accident after he fouled a ball off his face during a bunting drill.
He’s back and pitching well. Burnett threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals in his first start as a Pirate last Saturday, giving up only three hits, walking two and striking out seven.
Granted Burnett was miserable his last two seasons with the Yankees, going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010, followed by 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 2011, but he’s got to be happy to be out of the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium for PNC Park. He gave up 61 home runs in 66 starts at the new Yankee Stadium.
Here’s Pirates manager Clint Hurdle’s take on Burnett’s fresh start:
“It’s win-win for both of us,” Hurdle told reporters recently. “Look at the environment he was in, he was one of the guys, probably somewhere in the middle. Here, based on his experience and resume, he’s on top. He’s comfortable in this environment and in his own skin. He’s a tireless worker. He’s not going to put up with somebody else not carrying his share of the load.”
This will be the first time the Braves have faced Burnett since 2008 when he was with the Blue Jays. He shut them out for seven innings on four hits and struck out 11 on June 29, 2008, to beat Jo-Jo Reyes and the Braves 1-0.
He’s 5-9 in 18 career starts against Atlanta, mostly from his seven seasons as a Marlin, but with a 3.74 ERA. The Braves would surely love to see Chipper Jones in the lineup tonight, assuming his knee didn’t swell up too badly from the flight back from Los Angeles Wednesday night. He is hitting .351 (13-for-37) with two home runs and six RBIs against Burnett.
Hanson on the mound
Burnett will face Tommy Hanson who is riding some good momentum after winning two of his past three starts. He threw seven solid innings, allowing only two runs, his last time out against the Diamondbacks in the game the Braves won 3-2.
We found out today compliments of Jayson Stark of ESPN.com that when Jonny Venters, David Hernandez (Arizona) and Craig Kimbrel struck out nine batters in a row in the eighth and ninth innings, that was the first time in the live ball era that the final three relievers in a game came on for an inning apiece and struck out every batter they faced.
Hanson is facing a pretty downtrodden Pirates lineup that ranks last in the majors in runs per game (2.28), on-base percentage (.269) and is second-to-last in slugging percentage (.325).
Hanson is 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts vs. the Pirates for his career. Neil Walker is 3-for-6 with a triple and a home run and three RBIs off him.
The Pirates have won two of their past three series though, taking two of three from both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks, with a series loss to the Cardinals’ sandwiched in between.
Scratch your head on this one: the Pirates broke a record held by the 1943 Tigers on Wednesday when they played their 18th game of the season without either scoring or allowing more than five runs.
Nate McLouth is back with the Pirates, hitting .200 (4-for-20) so far, but he drove in the run that started a five-run outburst in a 5-1 win over the Rockies to split a doubleheader Wednesday.
The Nationals starters became the first staff since the 1997 Braves (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood/Terrell Wade) to allow three of fewer home runs in the first 17 games of the season.
Jeff Francoeur collected the 99th outfield assist of his career Wednesday night for the Royals. He’ll become only the fifth active player with 100 or more, along with Bobby Abreu (134), Andruw Jones (121), Mark Kotsay (120), and Carlos Beltran (119). Only three former Braves among those five.
Just another nugget from the Javy Lopez book “Behind the Plate” I’m finishing up. Remember that story we’ve all heard about Bobby Cox pulling Andruw Jones from the middle of a game in June of 1998 because he wasn’t hustling on a flyball to center field? Lopez said it’s because Glavine screamed from the mound in anger, and Cox heard him, prompting him to make the move.
Actually, from what I understand it was actually Smoltz on the mound that day, not Glavine, but Smoltz did yell. Either way, we get the idea that Cox protected his starting pitchers in more ways than one.
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado LF
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Brian McCann C
5. Dan Uggla 2B
6. Chipper Jones 3B
7. Jason Heyward RF
8. Tyler Pastornicky SS
9. Tommy Hanson P