ST. LOUIS -- It was easy to see when A.J. Burnett's outing began to spiral out of control on Thursday. Only minutes later, it ended.
The Pirates starter ran into trouble when Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran crushed a hanging 2-1 sinker in the third inning, clobbering it 443 feet into the right-field seats for an early 3-0 St. Louis lead in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium.
The first two batters of that inning -- opposing pitcher Adam Wainwright and second baseman Matt Carpenter -- had reached, and the following five did so as well. Manager Clint Hurdle came out with the hook after David Freese singled and three runs came around on a couple of Bucs miscues on the play.
Hurdle said Jeanmar Gomez, who went on to retire the next three batters in order and didn't allow an earned run in four innings of relief, was ready when Freese came to the plate, but the at-bat belonged to Burnett.
"We were going to give him that last hitter, Freese, get the ground-ball double play, see if we could get some balance and keep the game right there where it was," Hurdle said. "Three feet to the left, ball is by us. Three more runs score after that.
"Please, put it all on me. That was my decision."
Still, it was Burnett who pointed out that he may have been overamped for the Game 1 start, that he didn't have a handle on his curveball and that it allowed Cards hitters to ambush his fastball.
"I'm a two-pitch pitcher," Burnett said. "At times I'll throw a couple changeups here and there, but if I don't establish that curveball for a strike or a swing-and-miss pitch, and if I'm not commanding the fastball -- and I obviously wasn't doing that either -- it's going to be a long day."
In the figurative sense, it was. But literally, it was notably brief. It was the veteran's shortest postseason outing since Game 5 of the 2009 World Series (also two innings), and the first start that he left without a strikeout since June 30, 2004. Of Burnett's 72 pitches thrown, the Cardinals only swung and missed at four.
"He didn't seem to have his best command, I didn't think," St. Louis shortstop Daniel Descalso said. "We laid off some good pitches. When that happens, guys are bound to come over the plate [with their pitches], and when he did, we were ready."
Burnett threw 37 pitches in that fateful third without retiring a batter. In all, he recorded just six outs and finished with a dismal line of two-plus innings, six hits, seven earned runs, four walks, one home run and one hit batsman. The last time a team scored seven runs in a single postseason inning was Game 2 of the 2010 World Series, when the Giants scored seven in the eighth against the Rangers.
Still, it was not even Burnett's worst outing at Busch Stadium since he joined the Pirates last year. He gave up 12 earned runs on 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings in a May 2 game last season. In five career starts against the Cards over the last two seasons, Burnett has given up 31 earned runs in 18 innings, for a 15.50 ERA.
"It's the game, I guess," Burnett said. "The only thing I can say is that I've prepared to do what I can out there and given it all I can, and it just wasn't enough."
According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the most runs allowed by a Bucs pitcher in a postseason game since 1927, when Lee Meadows did so against the Yankees. It was the shortest postseason outing for a Pittsburgh starter since John Smiley lasted two-thirds of an inning in Game 7 of the 1991 NL Championship Series.
"It's tough," Burnett said. "Obviously you want to come out and put your foot down. That wasn't the case today, but when the sun comes up tomorrow, I'm doing my work and doing what I can in case I do get the ball again."