As you probably remember, A.J. Burnett, despite a terrible season with the Yankees last year, came into Comerica Park during game four of the ALDS last year with the Tigers on the brink of victory – and shut them down. Nevermind the 5+ ERA against them – the trend continued Friday night and it appears that Burnett has the Tigers pretty well figured out as the Pirates won the PNC Park opener 4-1.
Of course, the Tigers didn’t particularly play that well in any aspect of the game – Doug Fister’s peripheral numbers look good on the surface (1 walk, 7 Ks in 6 innings) but he fell victim to BABIP and left some pitches up, giving up 8 hits, and made a critical second inning throwing error that led to two runs and effectively buried the Tigers before they could really get their footing under them.
Burnett didn’t have much trouble making the four runs stand up, giving up just two hits, though he did issue three walks (two of them to Ty Cobb protege Quintin Berry, the only Tiger to reach base more than once on the night). The Tigers only really had Burnett in trouble once – his final inning, the 6th, as Austin Jackson singled and Berry walked to put the first two on. However, Miguel Cabrera, who continues to scuffle, hit into a 6-4-3 double play to essentially kill any possibility of a big inning, and Prince Fielder popped up to ensure that the Tigers wouldn’t be getting on the board at all in the 6th.
The Tigers’ only run came after Burnett left the game. Back to back doubles by Jhonny Peralta and Ramon Santiago kept the Tigers shutout-free streak intact (it’s almost a year old now!) but, despite a wild pitch and a Brennan Boesch walk, the Tigers were denied further damage as Tony Watson came in and struck out Jackson to end the inning.
As for Fister, he was pitching in and out of trouble all night, and it actually could have been worse as the Tigers turned three double plays behind him.
The .500 mark appears to be the new unbreakable ceiling for the Tigers, as this was the second time this week they had a chance to make it there with a victory and the second time they failed. The good news for the Tigers is this was probably the most difficult pitching matchup of the series for them – they send Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander the next two days against Brad Lincoln and Kevin Correia, who have both had decent spells this year but are simply not as hot as Burnett has been lately.