Burnett On, But Pirates Still Fall

PITTSBURGH – A.J. Burnett knew his margin for error was slim. It tends to happen when the other guy on the mound is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Yet Burnett was nearly flawless for seven innings against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, matching Seattle ace Felix Hernandez pitch for pitch. By his estimate, Burnett made two mistakes.

Or, at least one too many.

A wild pitch led to one run and Jesus Montero’s solo shot to center in the seventh broke a tie as the Mariners escaped with a 2-1 victory and a split of the brief two-game interleague series.

“You know it’s going to be a close ballgame,” Burnett said. “You try to throw up zeroes just like he did. You know he’s going to go out there and compete as much as I like to compete. It was fun.”

Even if it could have – and maybe should have – been a victory.

Burnett (3-3) gave up two runs on two hits in seven innings, striking out nine to boost his National League-leading total to 66. Yet he bounced a 2-2 curveball in front of backup catcher Mike McKenry that let Michael Saunders scamper home for a run in the fourth. The wild pitch came just after a Burnett fastball was ruled just a bit outside by home plate umpire Paul Schrieber.

The call could have gone either way. Yet instead of being out of the inning, the Mariners found a way to tie the score.

“I thought it was a close pitch,” Burnett said of the borderline call before adding with a laugh “sometimes think my stuff’s nasty, so sometimes (umpires) miss it too.”

Burnett’s other mistake came when Montero took a 91 mph heater and sent it just beyond the reach of centerfielder Andrew McCutchen for his third homer of the season.

“One ball that comes over, he could have popped it up, he could have done anything with it,” Burnett said. “He put a decent swing on it. He’s a strong kid. I’ve seen that before. And he got it, so what can you do?”

Starling Marte had two hits for Pittsburgh and McCutchen added an RBI single but the Pirates couldn’t take advantage of a brief wobble by Hernandez in the first. Marte led off with a double and scored when McCutchen singled to center. Garrett Jones followed with a walk, but the inning ended with McKenry grounding into a double play.

The Pirates went just 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and have made a habit of squandering early opportunities.

“It just seems that we’ve got to find a better answer,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “Maybe it’s our mindset but we’re getting pitched tough. It’s not like it’s chopped liver we’ve been facing.”