PITTSBURGH (AP) – A.J. Burnett was outpitched by a rookie in the final regular-season start of his career, and the Cincinnati Reds prevented Pittsburgh from clinching home-field advantage in the NL wild-card game by beating the Pirates 3-1 Saturday night to snap a 13-game skid.
Pittsburgh still needs a win Sunday or a Chicago Cubs loss to host the one-game playoff Wednesday night. If the Cubs beat Milwaukee – and the Pirates lose to Cincinnati again – the wild-card showdown would be played at Wrigley Field.
Brandon Finnegan (5-2) limited the Pirates to one run in six innings. Adam Duvall hit his fifth homer and Aroldis Chapman got four outs for his 33rd save, ending Cincinnati’s longest losing streak in 70 years.
Burnett, who plans to retire after 17 seasons, gave up three runs on five hits with four walks in 6 2-3 innings. His nine strikeouts gave him 2,513 in his career, pushing Burnett (9-7) past Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson and into 30th place on the all-time list.
It just wasn’t enough for Pittsburgh.
Burnett’s final season has gone much the way he envisioned after declining a $12.75 million option to stay with rebuilding Philadelphia and return to Pittsburgh last winter, where his arrival in 2012 helped usher in the franchise’s return to prominence after two decades of decline.
Equal parts mentor and ace, Burnett convinced a young clubhouse in need of direction that it wasn’t tied to the past. He won 16 games that first year and 10 more the next as Pittsburgh roared to its first playoff berth since 1992.
He spent a miserable 2014 with the Phillies before returning to the Pirates for one last ride – and became an All-Star for the first time after a spectacular first half. A strained right elbow in late July slowed his momentum, but even that worked out. Pittsburgh acquired left-hander J.A. Happ from Seattle the same day Burnett went on the disabled list, and Happ’s immediate effectiveness is one of the main reasons the Pirates were able to clinch a third straight postseason berth.
Provided with an opportunity to assure the Pirates of playing at PNC Park next Wednesday against the Cubs, and with sons Ashton and A.J. on hand to throw out the first pitch, Burnett was outdone by Finnegan, who was heading into first grade when Burnett made his major league debut with the Marlins in 1999.
The Reds touched Burnett for two runs in the first inning, thanks in part to an error on a pickoff attempt by Burnett. He settled down to retire 12 straight at one point before giving up Duvall’s homer in the seventh and then walking a pair.
The final regular-season pitch of his career was a 3-2 fastball to Jason Bourgeois that was just a little high. Burnett walked off to a standing ovation from his teammates, the Reds and a crowd that included one fan waving a Batman flag – Burnett’s superhero of choice – in front of the Pirates’ dugout.
It made for a touching scene if not a triumphant send-off.
Making his fourth major league start, Finnegan had little trouble with the Pirates. He allowed only Josh Harrison’s infield single over his final five innings, and the bullpen did the rest as the Reds stopped their longest slide since 1945.
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