38,000 fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates were lustily booing umpire Vic Carapazza after his phantom foul tip call gave Cardinals’ slugger Mark Reynolds a second chance that he would not waste. Reynolds drove the very next pitch from A.J. Burnett over the left field wall to stake the Cards to a 1-0 second inning lead. PNC Park was a powder keg ready to explode. Francisco Cervelli was melting down in rage after his quick ejection by Carapazza after voicing a few words of displeasure over the obvious missed call. Manager Clint Hurdle was turning 50 shades of purple. He too was sent for an early shower. While chaos was ensuing all around home plate A.J. Burnett casually took a baseball and milled around the mound area until the rest of the Pirates coaching staff could drag Cervelli and Hurdle off the field. Burnett had every reason to be chapped. You have to believe inside he was boiling. He was just burned by a terrible call and his catcher was being taken away from him in what was setting up to be a pivotal game. 5 years ago Burnett would surely have gotten himself tossed in a situation like that. 10 years ago he might have been tossed and broken a hand on a water cooler. But in this moment Burnett looked like the calmest man in PNC Park. When play would resume Burnett would go on to do what he has done every 5th day all season long – keep his team in the game and get them to the 7th inning.
Even at age 38 A.J. Burnett hardly appears to be the most mature guy in baseball. He almost always carries an edge with him. This is a guy that relishes telling strikeout victims to “Sit the F Down”. But when the Pirates need a calming influence, a rock to lean on, Burnett is that guy. Andrew McCutchen is the soul of the Pirates. Gerrit Cole is the heartbeat. A.J. Burnett is surprisingly the steadying influence for this club. As long as A.J. is holding it together every thing else will be fine. And that is what happened in this epic 14 inning Pirates win over the Cardinals on Saturday night. A.J. Burnett steadied the ship and gave the Pirates a chance to win – just like he has all season.