Hurdle’s slow hook cost Pirates any chance

There’s a big difference between postseason experience, which A.J. Burnett has a lot of, and postseason success, which Burnett hasn’t enjoyed much of during his career.

There’s also a very fine line between loyalty, which Clint Hurdle has a lot of, and loyalty to a fault that it’s actually stubbornness, which Hurdle also possesses in abundance sometimes with his players.

Those two factors combined led to the Pirates getting crushed, 9-1, by the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night in St. Louis.

Burnett just didn’t have it on the mound. And it was obvious to everyone.

Everyone, apparently, except his manager, Hurdle.

Burnett gave up seven runs without retiring a batter in the third inning, the most in MLB playoff history, and it was an ominous sign when he started the inning by walking fellow pitcher Adam Wainwright.

There’s no way Burnett should have been allowed to stay out there as long as he did. Pulling him down 3-0 after Carlos Beltran’s home run or 4-0 after a bases-loaded walk needed to be done by Hurdle given the magnitude of the game and Burnett’s propensity for blowing up in a hurry.

More egregious than not pulling Burnett was the fact that Hurdle didn’t even have someone warming up in the bullpen.

“Please, put it all on me,” Hurdle, falling on his sword, said afterward. “I mean, that was my decision.”

Hurdle deserves a lot of blame, but certainly Burnett should bear the overwhelming majority of it.

The 36-year-old is feisty and pitches on emotion a good bit, and when you do that, occasional blowups are inevitable.

Burnett had his meltdown at the worst possible time Thursday, although it was far from the first time he has failed to deliver in the playoffs.

What happened to Burnett probably came as little surprise to New York Yankees fans, who watched the right-hander struggle big time in many of his postseason appearances with them from 2009-11. He went 2-2 with a 5.08 ERA in seven playoff starts, including walking 23 in 39 innings. (To be fair, he was good in his last one in 2011, giving up one run in 5 inning in a loss to Detroit in the ALDS.)

When Burnett’s control got away from him Thursday, it was only a matter of time before the Cardinals would hit him hard.

They did just that, and now the Pirates are down 1-0 in the best-of-five series, with enormous pressure falling on rookie Gerrit Cole today today in Game 2.

Hurdle might have been better off starting Cole on Thursday, but, to many, it seemed like an obvious choice to go with the far more experienced Burnett. That decision, plus the ones Hurdle made in the crucial third inning, backfired in a big way.

The Pirates simply cannot afford those kind of mistakes if they’re going to beat an outstanding team like the Cardinals.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.