PITTSBURGH (AP) – The roar began the moment Sean Rodriguez recorded the last out of the ninth inning and only grew louder as A.J. Burnett slowed walked toward the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout.
This is why the 38-year-old pitcher left money on the table in Philadelphia last winter to return to the Pirates. This is why he wanted his to end his career in a place where he helped spark a turnaround after two decades of misery.
And this – two-plus hours of spectacular work against the reeling Phillies – is why the Pirates happily welcomed him back. While Josh Harrison owned the moment when he drove in Neil Walker with two outs in the bottom of the 11th to lift Pittsburgh to a 1-0 win, the afternoon belonged to the wise old man on one of baseball’s best pitching staffs.
“Words can’t really describe what (Burnett) has done,” Harrison said. “It’s something you’ve got to take notice of every time he starts. I’m just glad to be a part of it, to be able to enjoy it.”
Burnett scattered five hits in nine innings, walking one and striking out four to lower his ERA to 1.89. He needed to be brilliant to match former teammate Cole Hamels, who overwhelmed Pittsburgh in seven scoreless innings, striking out 12 before giving way to a bullpen that couldn’t stop the Phillies from dropping their sixth straight.
“I just tried to stay up with him,” Burnett said.
Something the Pirates are doing with regularity. Pittsburgh has won four straight, three of them by shutout to drop its team ERA to 2.83, tops in the majors. Burnett’s 1.89 ERA trails only 24-year-old teammate Gerrit Cole’s 1.71.
“I tell (Cole), I don’t know if he believes me yet or not but when you watch him do what he does and I get to come out behind him and throw it, it’s motivation,” Burnett said. “It makes me want to go a little more.”
Still, Pittsburgh needed a little help from Philadelphia to escape. Neil Walker singled off Jonathan Papelbon (1-1) with two outs in the ninth. Jose Tabata reached when Philadelphia shortstop Freddy Galvis threw a routine grounder into the stands. Harrison followed with a crisp shot up the middle.
“I just made a bad throw,” Galvis said. “I just threw the ball and it went up there.”
Antonio Bastardo (2-1) picked up the win after working the top of the 11th. The Pirates have swept six series this season, the most of any team in the majors and are 22-11 since May 9.
Burnett spent a forgettable season with Philadelphia in 2014, losing 18 games and leading the majors in walks before returning to Pittsburgh in the offseason for what he promises will be his final go-round. He is pitching like someone a decade younger, helped on Sunday by more than a little help behind him.
Andrew McCutchen made a leaping grab at the center field wall in the first to take extra bases away from Ryan Howard, and Sean Rodriguez went all out to haul in a sinking liner to right Galvis in the fifth.
“We had guys diving out in right, diving out in center, third base, first base,” Burnett said. “Just a fun defensive game to pitch.”
Hamels didn’t need much assistance, mostly because the Pirates had problems putting the ball in play. His only trouble spot came in the fourth when two singles and a hit by pitch loaded the bases. Jordy Mercer grounded out to third to end the threat and Hamels went back to keeping Pittsburgh’s right-hand heavy lineup in knots.
He retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, the final one a meek grounder by Burnett that went right back to Hamels. Rather than run to first, Burnett held up his hands as if to say “I’m good” while Hamels jogged to the bag to record the out.
Pirates: Former first-round draft pick RHP Jameson Taillon threw four innings in extended spring training on Saturday without incident as he continues his comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery. General manager Neal Huntington said Taillon came out feeling just fine after a 61-pitch effort. Taillon, now months removed from surgery, is nearing a return to game action but Huntington said there is no timetable.
Phillies: Philadelphia begins a four-game home-and-home interleague set with Baltimore on Monday when Aaron Harang (4-7, 3.04) faces Wei-Yin Chen (6-2, 2.11) at Camden Yards. Harang is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in three career starts against Baltimore.
Pirates: Pittsburgh meets the Chicago White Sox for the first time since 2010 when the White Sox visit PNC Park on Monday. Francisco Liriano (3-5, 3.25 ERA) starts for Pittsburgh against LHP Carlos Rodon (2-0, 2.66 ERA). The Pirates are 9-17 against the White Sox in interleague play.
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