Yesterday, A.J. Burnett officially became a Philadelphia Phillie:
— Phillies (@Phillies) February 16, 2014
While he was only in Pittsburgh for two short years, his work won’t go unnoticed.
A key piece of two of the best Pirate teams in my lifetime, Burnett brought talent and passion that few others have shown over the years. He’s one of the reasons why a lot of Pittsburghers have come back to baseball the past couple years, why this city has been re-bonded with its baseball team. From the standing ovations to the A.J. inspired t-shirts, not too many recent baseball players have gained as much respect in the Burgh as A.J. Burnett. Not only did he bring a different character, but he was actually a really good pitcher.
A huge thank you goes out to A.J. – for the good memories and just overall solid pitching.
Here’s a look at some of his best and worst times as a Pirate.
- The Debut
Missing the start of 2012 due to a bizarre injury (more on that in a bit), Burnett was working on a rehab assignment in which he gave up 14 runs over 10.1 innings. April 21st was marked as another scheduled minor league outing, but plans changed late in the afternoon when the big league club needed a starter to replace an aching Kevin Correia. Burnett would be making his Pirates debut, and a rainy day in Pittsburgh quickly turned into an excellent night.
It didn’t start so well – the first three Cardinals reached base to start the contest, with Burnett looking like a flop. However, he struck out Carlos Beltran and David Freese, then got Yadier Molina to line-out to end the threat. Burnett cruised the rest of the way, allowing no runs on three hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking two. The Pirates won, 2-0.
- The One-Hit, Complete Game Masterpiece
One of his best starts in a Bucco uniform, Burnett nearly twirled a no-hitter on July 31st, 2012 at Wrigley Field.
After cruising into the eighth inning, he faced rookie Adrian Cardenas with two outs. He painted the black with a 2-2 curve ball, but the umpire didn’t give A.J. the corner. On the next pitch, Cardenas roped a single to right field to end Burnett’s no-hit bid. He got the next four outs without a problem, leaving just one blemish on the scorecard.
History wasn’t made, but Burnett still had one of his best outings. And the Pirates won, 5-0.
- The Strikeouts (#AJ2K)
The Pirates really haven’t had many dominant pitchers over the years, especially in the strikeout department. A breath of fresh air, Burnett mowed down hitters at excellent rates, posting an 8.0 K/9 in 2012 and a league-leading 9.8 in 2013.
A.J. notched his 2,000th strikeout on April 17th, in what I thought was one of the more memorable moments last year. We haven’t seen many milestones either, so that was cool.
He struck out more batters in a single season than any other Pirate right-hander in team history last year (209), placing him at 55th on the all-time MLB K list. Burnett will have the chance to pass the likes of Juan Marichal, Dwight Gooden, and Tommy John in 2014.
- The Walk-Off Pies
Burnett liked to have fun after walk-off victories, bringing his pie-in-the-face tradition over from New York.
When Burnett told Hanley Ramirez what to do on August 16th, 2012…
…he really became a fan-favorite. Famous t-shirts and Twitter hashtags were born, endorsed by Mr. STFD himself:
- The Broken Orbital Bone
It was great to see the Pirates pick up a big name pitcher like Burnett back in February of 2012. After spring training started, Burnett suffered a totally bizarre injury that brought a ton of “this WOULD happen to the Pirates” responses. In the team’s annual bunting competition, A.J. knocked a ball right into his eye and broke his orbital bone. It was frustrating as a fan, and I can only imagine how frustrated Burnett was. Fortunately, no serious damage was done and he was only set back a few weeks.
- The Rosin Bags
This is a joke more than anything, but…
- The Busch Stadium Implosions
This, unfortunately, is not a joke. Burnett sucked in Busch Stadium for whatever reason, giving up 24 earned runs there over 16 regular season innings as a Pirate.
It started with his third Bucco start on May 2nd, 2012, when he surrendered 12 runs to the Redbirds in just 2.2 innings.
It ended with his final Bucco start on October 3rd, 2013 – NLDS Game 1 – when he gave up seven runs and couldn’t even get an out in the third inning. He pitched well against St. Louis at PNC, but just couldn’t handle them at Busch. And it cost him the ball in Game 5, as Gerrit Cole got the nod instead.
- The Fallout
Word is that after Burnett found out he wouldn’t be pitching in Game 5, he threw a huge tantrum and threatened not to make the trip to St. Louis. True or not, the decision clearly left a bad taste in A.J.’s mouth.
He also said some dumb stuff on Twitter later in October, when the Steelers only invited Clint Hurdle and Andrew McCutchen for recognition at a game. After shooting the breeze with local media later that week to describe what was going through his head, Burnett pretty much went silent for the rest of winter.
The whole offseason situation was handled pretty poorly, as the Pirates could have done more to get him back. Now he’s wearing red.
— MLB (@MLB) February 16, 2014
In my opinion, the “good” greatly outweighed the “bad” over the last two years. At the end of the day, he’s one heck of a pitcher.
Congrats to A.J. Burnett on the things he’s accomplished so far, thank you for the great memories in Pittsburgh, and good luck the rest of the way. Enjoy Philly, A.J.