ST. LOUIS -- The Pittsburgh Pirates, the last National League team to qualify for a division series since that format was instituted in 1995, made their debut in that arena on Thursday at Busch Stadium. Their first step was more of a lurch as they very much got off on the wrong foot.
Starter A.J. Burnett, save for a 5-3 win here in April, has found Busch III a chamber of horrors and the third inning Thursday was no different. He threw 37 pitches in the inning. Not one of them resulted in an out.
Burnett, who entered the game with a 13.50 regular-season ERA at Busch, allowed seven runs in the inning. Three came home on Carlos Beltran's mammoth home run. To more scored on David Freese's single. Burnett walked three and hit one in the inning and the Pirates committed one of their three errors on the day.
One of the walks was a leadoff pass to pitcher Adam Wainwright and Burnett said, "Walking anybody never works out."
The Pirates, wild-card winners on Tuesday, were shellacked, 9-1, by the Cardinals on Thursday in Game 1 of the division series.
"Game 164 was rough," said manager Clint Hurdle, referring to the regular season, plus two games.
Unable to establish his curveball, Burnett said, "If I'm not commanding the fastball -- and I obviously wasn't doing that either -- it's going to be a long day."
The righthander said he felt strong but, too anxious, couldn't repeat his delivery. "I couldn't stay back on my back leg. I was out in front of everything," he said.
"My hooks (curveball) were up. I don't think I had but one swing and miss at a hook all day. Every sinker I threw in seemed to cut except the one Beltran hit a mile. That one stayed straight.
"Hopefully, we can turn it around and give me a chance to get that ball again. It's a five-game series. It's not a one-game series."
Hurdle, asked if he thought about pulling Burnett after he walked Jon Jay to force in the fourth run of the third inning, said he wanted to give Burnett one more hitter, David Freese, and hope for a ground-ball double play to help ease the Pirates out of the inning.
But the ground ball by Freese was a few feet to the left of first baseman Justin Morneau and all three runners scored, with the assist of right fielder Marlon Byrd's return throw to the infield which hit Freese in the foot.
"Please, put it all on me," said Hurdle. "When we win, give the players all the credit. When we lose, give the manager all the blame."
Burnett, cutting to the heart of the matter, said, "I kept trying to find my groove that I never found.
"I made a few pitches here and there. But I wasn't able to string many together. I was here and there and then off again. And then way off again.
"You want to come out and put your foot down. Obviously, that wasn't the case today. But, you know what? The sun comes up tomorrow."
The other facets of the Pirates' game weren't very good either, except for some stout four-inning relief from rookie Jeanmar Gomez, who came in for Burnett. They had one run, Pedro Alvarez's long homer in the fifth, and three hits off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who fanned nine in seven innings, with the Pirates flailing futilely at his curveball.
"That (curveball) basically was the difference in the ball game," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' Most Valuable Player candidate.
"He was getting ahead of a lot of people with his curveball. He had a lot of swing and misses on his curveball down in the zone.
"If we were able to let go of that pitch, it might have been a a different ball game. But we were doing it all night tonight.
"So if it happens that have to battle to Game 5 and have to face him again, I think we'll know what to expect."
McCutchen committed one of three errors the Pirates had.
"It's better that it's Game 1, rather than Game 5, or something like that," said McCutchen, summarizing the day's proceedings.
"We got our butts whipped tonight. But it might be a good thing we got beat like this so that we can show up tomorrow wanting to do the same thing."
Counting a three-game series in which they were swept here in early September, the Pirates have been outscored, 35-11, in their last four games at Busch.
Next to lefthander Francisco Liriano, the staff ace who had to pitch the wild-card win on Tuesday to get the Pirates to this point, rookie Gerrit Cole may be their best pitcher. He will face Lance Lynn today and, like Lynn, has to channel his anger sometimes.
"I'm always angry out there," said UCLA product Cole, the top pick in the 2011 draft, before Thursday's game.
"I think everybody could say they've had success getting really mad and they've been kicked in the face sometimes when they've gotten really mad and tried to do too much.
"There's a sweet spot you have to get to."
It was a spot Burnett said he couldn't find. The start was Burnett's eighth in the postseason but it might as well have been his first he was so anxious.
"I'm a human being," Burnett said. "At times I was able to slow it up. But I was just trying to get the ball to the plate too quick."
Hurdle, looking ahead as he always does, said he could see better things ahead for Burnett, if the series went deep, even to the point of his having to pitch here again next Wednesday.
"I do believe that he's capable of throwing a gem the next time out, wherever that might be," Hurdle said.
"I think he's going to have the opportunity. . . to bounce back and go out there and give us a better shot -- a much better shot than he gave us today."
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