Those were the words of A.J. Burnett after his final regular-season start Saturday, a game the Pirates lost 3-1 to the Reds. Burnett pitched 62/3 innings and allowed three runs, striking out nine.
Burnett passed Christy Mathewson for 31st on the all-time list. He finished with 2,513 career strikeouts.
’That’s a big name,“ Burnett said. ”It feels like, like I said, I’m old and I pitched a long time.“
Burnett said he got choked up in the dugout and pitching coach Ray Searage almost had him bawling. He was disappointed the Pirates lost but appreciative of the support he received, especially during his curtain call.
”Going back out there, you can ask me a million times what it’s like, but I can’t tell you, man,“ he said.
He gave the Pirates a chance to win, not shaking Francisco Cervelli after shaking too often in the first.
”Once I settled down after the first tonight, you saw that I had a little bit left,“ he said. ”One ball got over the middle late the game but to be able to go out there and get some swings and misses and jump up that list again, it’s not going to sink in for a while.“
Burnett left after a walk in the seventh. The crowd cheered as Burnett waved, then acknowledged the Reds’ dugout.
”It was extremely loud, one of the loudest moments I can remember here,“ said Jared Hughes, who was sprinting in from the bullpen and replaced Burnett. ”It was hard not to hear ’A-J, A-J.’“
But the Pirates did lose, unable to solve Brandon Finnegan or the Reds’ bullpen. They have to beat the Reds today or hope the Cubs, who have won seven in a row, lose to the Brewers.
”We got to come out, we got to score some runs, and try to get them down early and lock it down,“ Neil Walker said.
”In my mind, we ain’t done yet,“ Burnett said. ”We got a horse going up in a couple days against Chicago, and get me another start.“
Notebook: Cole named wild-card starter.
Sunday On the Pirates: Stephen J. Nesbitt traces the story of Cole’s ace status.
In the non-breaking-news category: Gerrit Cole will start the wild-card game agains the Cubs.
“It’s special,” Cole said. “I think I’ve said it all along as he continued to put me in big games. It’s vote of confidence, it’s trust, it’s acknowledgement for the hard work that you put in to put yourself in that position. At the same time, this is a team game. It’s not all one player. We have to go out and win the game. I just have to keep us in a stone’s throw, I guess.”
Cole has a 2.13 ERA in four starts against the Cubs this year and 32 strikeouts in 251/3 innings. He has a 2.88 ERA in nine career starts spanning 561/3 innings, with 69 strikeouts.
“I knew after the last start I needed to be preparing for seven days,” Cole said. “I started that process already. I had a pretty good feeling. We had already decided, we just hadn’t made it official yet. Just try to get prepared. We had a couple opportunities this year where we’ve had extra rest, and I thought we’ve used those to our advantage quite well.”
Game: Reds (63-97) at Pirates (97-63)
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Site: PNC Park
Standings: Pirates’ magic number to clinch home-field advantage is one.
TV, radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: Football weather
1. Jason Bourgeois CF
2. Eugenio Suarez SS
3. Joey Votto (L) 1B
4. Brandon Phillips 2B
5. Todd Frazier 3B
6. Jay Bruce (L) RF
7. Adam Duvall LF
8. Tucker Barnhart (S) C
9. Brandon Finnegan (L) LHP
1. Josh Harrison 2B
2. Gregory Polanco (L) RF
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Starling Marte LF
6. Michael Morse 1B
7. Francisco Cervelli C
8. Jordy Mercer SS
9. A.J. Burnett RHP
Win one of the next two games, and the Pirates guarantee themselves a third consecutive wild-card game at PNC Park.
Their 97-63 record is impressive regardless of where the wild-card game takes place and a continuation of the improvement in years three through five under Clint Hurdle and years six through eight under Neal Huntington. But right now, their focus is on three games against a last-place team that has lost 13 games in a row.
Their magic number is one. The Brewers can help out by beating the Cubs, but the Pirates control their fate against two rookie pitchers, the 109th and 110th starts made by a rookie for the Reds this season.
First on the docket is Brandon Finnegan, a lefty who joined the Reds in the Johnny Cueto trade. In spring 2014, he was pitching for TCU. In October he was playing in the World Series. Finnegan pitched in relief all season until Sept. 18, when he joined the Reds’ rotation. He has pitched five innings in each of his three starts. After three scoreless innings in his most recent start against the Nationals, Finnegan allowed four hits and a walk in the fourth, and a home run in the fifth.
Barring a change of mind, this will be A.J. Burnett’s final regular-season start, and the final start of his career if the Pirates don’t advance to the NLDS. He has started 429 games in his 17-year career, with a 164-156 record. His 2,503 strikeouts are three behind Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson for 31st on the all-time list. Burnett’s final season has been one of his best, as he earned a trip to the All-Star game and used his changeup more frequently to complement his low-90s sinker.
Here’s an interesting read from Jeff Sullivan correlating what dominant regular-season pitchers have done in the playoffs. The odds are not in the Pirates’ favor against Jake Arrieta, but home-field advantage would eat into the advantage Arrieta provides the Cubs.
Though the Pirates have three games remaining against the Reds -- important games that will determine where the Pirates play -- manager Clint Hurdle, the coaches and the front office have begun planning for Wednesday’s wild-card game against the Cubs.
Hurdle implied that the Pirates will again carry three catchers, as they have in each of the past two wild-card games.
“I’ve heard both sides of it,” Hurdle said. “People say, why would you need a third catcher? I say, well, you know what, if I have to send Sean Rodriguez behind home plate in that game I might as well just walk out of the building. From my perspective, I might want five catchers. From the perspective of protecting yourself because it can make sense. Very rarely do you use a third catcher. Well, this is one game. Who knows what might happen? [Francisco] Cervelli’s taken a ding or two this year. We’ve gone out on the field and checked on him a couple times. That’s always in play.”
Hurdle talked about Cervelli, who has taken a beating this year, tongue in cheek.
The Reds have lost 12 games in a row, their longest streak since 1993. If they lose tonight, their 13-game losing streak will tie a mark set in 1945. Tonight’s game is the 108th for the Reds this season started by a rookie pitcher and 62nd in a row. Nine different rookies have started during that time.
Three Reds -- Jumbo Diaz, Collin Balester and Ramon Cabrera -- have Pirates ties. Cabrera started his career in the Pirates organization but was traded to the Tigers for Andy Oliver. The Pirates later re-acquired Cabrera on waivers last season, but released him. He is 9 for 26 in his 12 major league games.
The Pirates lead the Cubs by two games and have a magic number of two to clinch home-field advantage. Jake Arrieta has a 1.97 ERA in 105 innings at home, 1.68 ERA in 118 innings on the road, and opposing batting averages of less than .200 home and away, so best of luck either way.
Despite implying on three occasions that Gerrit Cole will start the wild-card game, Hurdle did not name a starter when asked. “I don’t think it’s going to shock anybody but we’ll make a formal announcement on who’s gonna get that game and then we’ll go from there,” he said.