PITTSBURGH — A.J. Burnett was idly patting the rosin bag against his right hip when he suddenly found himself in the middle of a dust cloud. The bag had somehow exploded in his hand, covering the Pittsburgh Pirates ace and leaving him shaking his head.
It’s the first time Burnett can ever remember it happening in his lengthy career. Unfortunately, the numbers he saw on the scoreboard were all too familiar.
Pittsburgh’s offense struggled against Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija and the first opening day start in Burnett’s 15 seasons in the majors ended with a 3-1 loss on Monday. Burnett struck out 10 in 5 2-3 innings but also gave up a long two-run shot to Anthony Rizzo in the first inning that gave the rebuilding Cubs a needed adrenaline shot.
“The pitch to Rizzo and the rosin bag, that was my day,” Burnett said.
The Pirates continued a troubling trend that began during their late collapse last fall, when they failed to score in any of Burnett’s final three starts at PNC Park. It was more of the same on the first day of the 2013 season. Pittsburgh managed just two hits off Samardzija then saw a ninth-inning rally fall short when Russell Martin popped out with two runners on against Chicago reliever Kyuji Fujikawa.
“I was thinking about making something special happen,” said Martin, who was making his Pittsburgh debut after coming over in the offseason from the New York Yankees. “I just didn’t get it done.”
Burnett called it an honor to get the call in the opener, but the 15-year veteran showed some nerves early. Castro singled with one out and Rizzo followed with a towering two-run shot to center field that landed on the concourse behind the seats for one of the longest homers in the park’s 13-year history. The ball left the park so fast even center fielder Andrew McCutchen — a Gold Glove winner last year — trotted only couple of steps before stopping.
Rizzo hit just .229 in spring training with just three extra base hits, but his blast gave the rebuilding Cubs an early shot of adrenaline.
Chicago threatened to expand the lead in the fourth, putting runners in scoring position with no outs. Two strikeouts and a harmless chopper to third ended the threat, but the Pirates could muster little fight against Samardzija.
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