Alec Burleson led off the bottom of the 10th inning at AutoZone Park on Thursday night hoping to advance Paul DeJong – automatically awarded second base to open the extra frame – to third base.
The 1-1 offering from Iowa Cubs’ righthander Erich Uelman was exactly what the lefty slugger was looking for.
“I got a pitch elevated and away – I mean, even a flyball there in that situation works, too,” Burleson said during a phone interview before Friday’s game. “Just put a good swing on the ball – stayed through it and obviously it went out for me.”
“It was a good feeling for sure.”
The Gatorade bath that greeted Burleson at home plate after he walloped a walk-off two-run homer over the centerfield wall – not so much.
“It was cold, I was soaked – I was soaked,” he said. “But it was worth it.”
Burleson’s game-ending bomb in the series opener Thursday was just the beginning of the weekend fun on Beale Street, and Memphis’ fans – including Alec’s parents in town from North Carolina – watched Burleson torment Cubs’ pitchers to lift the Redbirds to a four-game series sweep.
The Memphis outfielder and clean-up hitter collected four hits in the Redbirds’ 10-5 victory on Saturday and two more during a 4-2 win on Sunday, including a towering blast off Cubs’ starter Luke Farrell in the third inning, his 11th dinger this season.
Memphis’ broadcaster Jack Keffer noted after Sunday’s game that since May 7, Burleson has torched International League pitching to the tune of a .405 batting average with seven doubles, five homers and 24 RBI.
Burleson – who is not a member of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster – is slashing .331/.377/.601 and just as importantly, he’s struck out just 25 times in 163 at-bats.
Eight rookies have made Major League debuts in St. Louis this season, including Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman – now key contributors at the big-league level who produced numbers in Triple-A comparable to Burleson before receiving a phone call from the 314.
“It’s awesome to watch those guys; me and Donny started in Peoria last year together and we both came up at different times but we both ended at Triple-A – to watch him go up there and do what he’s doing is awesome,” Burleson said.
“Played with Nolan and Yeppy at Double-A and Triple-A…just happy for those guys because they got their opportunity and they’re taking advantage of it, for sure.”
A former standout at East Carolina University, Burleson excelled at every level of the Cards’ farm system and climbed from Peoria (High-A) to Memphis (Triple-A) in his first season of professional baseball last summer.
“Not really pressing trying to get there. You know, when my time comes, it comes and hopefully I’ll be up there with them,” he said.
For the time being that means more Burly Bombs will be deposited over the right-field fence at AutoZone Park and more freezing coolers will be dumped on Alec’s curly locks – something he should be used to considering how often he rakes in big spots.
Burleson is hitting .465 with runners in scoring position this season – tops in Triple-A – with five home runs and 29 RBIs.
But his first-career walk-off home run is the baseball memory he cherishes most.
That happened on July 17, 2019 in Imabari City, Japan.
The United States Collegiate National Team was locked in a 2-2 game with Japan after rallying for an eighth-inning run that tied the game. Alec led off the ninth and yanked a Burly Bomb inside the foul pole in right field to lift Team USA – the home team for Game 2 of the five-game series – to a thrilling 3-2 win.
Burleson’s heroics overseas occurred a few months after his bat and arm lifted East Carolina to the Super Regional round of the 2019 NCAA Baseball Tournament.
With the Pirates trailing Quinnipiac 5-3 in the eighth inning of Game 1 in the Greenville Regional, Burleson was called on to pitch out of a jam. With the bases loaded and nobody out, he struck out the side to keep ECU in the game.
The lefty hurler picked up a win over Campbell in Game 4, punching out five batters over five innings of work in the Pirates’ 10-3 win – while also going 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs.
Incredibly, the powerful left-handed stroke that has Burleson knocking on Major League Baseball’s door might have gone overlooked but for Pirates’ manager Cliff Godwin, who encouraged the freshman pitcher to take at-bats when he arrived on campus.
“I was actually coming in as a pitcher, a left-handed pitcher who was just going to try and hit,” Burleson said. “(Godwin) was going to let me hit in the fall and see if it worked out.”
“Obviously, the script was flipped.”
On Tuesday the North Carolina native returns home when the Redbirds open a six-game set against the Charlotte Knights (White Sox).
“We went there the second week of the season and that was a pretty big crowd (of Burleson fans),” he said. “Going back a second time, I’m sure I will see some familiar faces – yeah it’s always great to play in front of family and friends.”
During the April series in Charlotte, he clearly enjoyed the home cooking.
Burleson recorded five hits – two home runs – and six RBIs. Now in the first week of June and despite the best efforts of the Gatorade splash, his bat is as hot as it’s been all year.
There’s an outfield logjam clogging the road between Memphis and St. Louis, but the first two months of the 2022 season suggest the 314-area code will be dialing Burly’s cell phone sooner than later.
Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505