A.J. Burnett scattered four hits over seven strong innings to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates over the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 on Saturday night.
Burnett (9-11) struck out a season-high 12 as the Pirates moved a game in front of Cincinnati for the top spot in the NL wild-card race. Jason Grilli worked the ninth for his 31st save, his first since going to the disabled list with a strained right forearm in July.
Russell Martin hit a two-run homer and Jose Tabata added two hits as the Pirates bounced back from a late collapse in a loss on Friday night.
Zach Cozart hit his 12th home run of the season for Cincinnati and Ryan Ludwick added an RBI but Homer Bailey (11-11) ended a winning streak at six straight decisions.
The Reds rallied for a 6-5 win in 10 innings on Friday, turning three unearned runs in the ninth and Joey Votto’s solo homer in the 10th into a tie with the Pirates for the top spot in the NL wild-card race.
It was the second gut-punch loss by the Pirates in three days. In danger of falling behind the Reds in the standings for the first time in since June 20, Pittsburgh reduced its magic number to three behind Burnett.
Ludwick’s RBI single in the first and Cozart’s deep home run to left leading off the second gave the Reds an early 2-0 lead before Burnett settled in. Mixing his fastball with a curveball nearly unhittable, Burnett retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced and became the first right-hander in Pittsburgh’s 126-year history to reach the 200-strikeout plateau when he fanned Joey Votto to start the sixth.
Bailey wasn’t quite as sharp. Making his first at PNC Park since throwing a no-hitter at the Pirates last September, Bailey was solid but not spectacular. An off night by Cincinnati’s typically reliable defense didn’t help.
Alvarez reached with two outs in the third when Votto mishandled a slow chopper to first. Martin followed by taking a fastball from Bailey and sending it into the bleachers in left field to tie the game at 2.
Pittsburgh broke the tie in the sixth. Andrew McCutchen walked with one out and sprinted to third when Bailey’s attempted pickoff throw slipped past Votto and rolled to the wall. Justin Morneau walked to put runners on the corners and Byrd hit a sacrifice to deep center field to give the Pirates the lead. Bailey gave up four runs, two earned, on three hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
Reliever Zach Duke — who spent six years in Pittsburgh during the club’s miserable two-decade losing streak — came on after Byrd’s sacrifice fly and immediately surrendered an RBI single to Alvarez that gave the Pirates a two-run cushion.
Burnett responded by breezing through the seventh in perhaps his final regular season start at PNC Park as a member of the Pirates. His deal is up at the end of the season, and while he’s embraced his role as the pitching staff’s wise old man, he may be too expensive to retain after going 25-21 with a 3.45 ERA over two years.
Those matters can wait. Burnett let loose an emphatic fist pump when pinch-hitter Henry Rodriguez struck out to end the seventh. He walked off to a loud ovation after steadying a franchise still trying to figure out how to win this time of year.