PITTSBURGH — Newly-acquired Justin Morneau made his way into PNC Park around 8:30 and was greeted by all of his new teammates who were in good spirits Saturday night. And why not?
The Pittsburgh Pirates took sole possession of first place in the National League Central after their 7-1 win against the St. Louis Cardinals in front of the second-largest crowd in PNC Park history (39,514).
“This is a great opportunity on a very good baseball team,” Morneau said. “You look up, and you see a full house. There is nothing better than that to get to see that and get to be a little part of that.”
AJ Burnett pitched seven innings in the win, gave up one run on four hits, walked one and struck out six while improving to 7-9 on the season. He came into the game with a 3-3 home record and sporting a 2.42 ERA with opponents hitting only .206 against him.
“He got some runs to work with, he stayed aggressive and had a solid mix of all of his pitches throughout the game,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “He continues to change angles with the breaking ball and use the two-seamer on both sides of the plate.”
Other than getting into some trouble in the third inning, the veteran right-hander shut down a very dangerous Cardinals’ lineup.
Russell Martin put the game away in the third when he launched a three-run home run off starter Lance Lynn, capping a five-run third inning for the Pirates.
“I got a couple of pitches up in the zone and put some good swings on them and it left the yard,” Martin said.
The Pirates’ catcher was one of the first to greet Morneau coming back to the dugout and welcomed the four-time All-Star with a bear hug.
“He’s a huge addition, he’s got a big bat and he’s going to produce some runs for us,” Martin said. “I’ve known him for a long time, we played together on Team Canada and I’m glad to have him on board.”
For the second straight night, the Pirates struck first on the scoreboard. They took a 2-0 lead when Burnett and Jose Tabata hit back-to-back RBI singles in the second inning.
The Cardinals answered back in the top half of the third when Carlos Beltran drove in Kolten Wong on a base hit to right.
Pittsburgh continued to pour it on in their half of the third, and would later force Lynn out of the game in the next inning. The Cardinals’ right-hander took the loss and went four innings, allowed seven runs on ten hits, walked three and struck out four as he fell to 0-4 in his last five starts.
“Right now, we’re getting things done off the mound and finding different ways to score around the lineup,” Hurdle said.
Much like Shelby Miller in game one, Lynn struggled with his command early and was at the 48-pitch mark after the second inning.
Hurdle mentioned after Friday night’s win that the team has aimed to use the biggest parts of the ballpark. That continued Saturday as Pirates’ hitters tallied six extra-base hits (four doubles, a triple and Martin’s home run).
It was also noted that Pittsburgh has outscored St. Louis at PNC Park this season, 39-8.
Pittsburgh now leads the season series 10-5 and holds a one-game cushion in the standings. They will look to complete the three-game sweep Sunday afternoon.
Hurdle also expressed his excitement on the Pirates’ newcomer after seeing him walk into the dugout halfway through the game.
“We just want him to enjoy what’s going on here,” Hurdle said. “He’s going to add a lot of value in a lot of different ways, not just the skill set but mental toughness physical toughness and we look forward to having him join the dance.”
Game three will be Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock.