BALTIMORE — Corbin Burnes yielded a leadoff double in the fifth inning and then he struck out three batters in a row. After he crossed the foul line leading back to the dugout, he lowered his head and let out a celebratory scream.
Six days after scuffling to command his cutter in a loss to the Cubs on Opening Day, Burnes looked the part of the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner as he pitched seven shutout innings in a 4-2 Brewers win over the Orioles on Wednesday at Camden Yards. It got a little hairy after Burnes left the game, but the Brewers rallied late and are 3-3 heading into their home opener against the Cardinals on Thursday.
Burnes was the hero back in Milwaukee, too. The Brewers hosted a home opener-eve party at a local watering hole and Burnes surprised hundreds of fans by picking up the bar tab.
“It was awesome to hear the big turnout,” Burnes said. “We just want to give back to the community, you know? The last two years have been tough on everyone. In 2020, we weren’t able to have fans. In 2021, limited fans early on. We’re excited to get home, we’re excited to play in front of the home fans.”
Brandon Woodruff’s first pitch on Thursday is scheduled for 4:14 p.m. CT — a nod to the date of this particular home opener and Milwaukee’s area code.
Burnes set a good example to follow.
“Every time he goes out there, the expectations are just so high,” said second baseman Kolten Wong, whose RBI triple in the ninth provided the winning run. “We all expect [Burnes] to be going out there and throwing no-hitters. He’s dominant as always and it’s so fun to watch him pitch and dissect these hitters, man. I was one of those hitters he used to dissect. I’m glad I’m on the other side now.”
The win — and series victory — didn’t exactly come easily, as setup man Devin Williams struggled to find the strike zone for the second straight night. The Brewers will have to figure out what’s ailing Williams, if anything, but the good news was the work they got from Burnes, who threw 97 pitches, scattered three hits and walked only that one batter — Anthony Santander with two outs in the first. Burnes did hit Rougned Odor with a pitch with one out in the seventh inning, but that mistake was erased when right fielder Hunter Renfroe caught an Austin Hays fly ball on the run and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
It was an exclamation point on Burnes’ sensational outing.
“It was better tonight,” Burnes said. “Still not where we want to be, but as far as the cutter goes, it was definitely better. It is still hit and miss with the curveball; I actually took a step back tonight. Probably 50-50 with some good ones and some bad ones. I definitely have some things to work on, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Had he emptied the tank by the time the eighth inning came around?
“Body-wise I still felt good. But as far as where we were in the game and how many times I had gotten up [for a new inning], that was definitely it,” Burnes said. “We’re still working into this thing.”
On Tuesday night, Williams threw 23 pitches in the eighth inning and escaped. On Wednesday, he threw 28 pitches and did not. Williams allowed two singles, a walk and a hit batsman before yielding with one out to Brad Boxberger, who allowed a sacrifice fly before ending the inning with a 2-2 tie.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said fatigue was a factor for Williams, who will need a couple of days off. Counsell said he had no concern about Williams’ fastball velocity, which was down from last year’s norm. And Burnes, speaking of Williams and Hader, said “it’s still the best 1-2 punch out of the bullpen in the game.”
“We need to score a couple of more runs because we’re making it challenging on our pitching staff right now,” Counsell said. “It was good to come out of here after a great starting performance by Corbin and still get a win.”
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are as a baseball club,” Burnes said. “We’re still getting to know each other after a short Spring Training. If you’re panicking now, six games in, it’s going to be a long season. We’ve got a really good baseball team, I can tell you that. And we’re excited to get home and play in front of our own fans.”