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Burnett flirts with history in shutting down Cards

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates got a superb outing from right-hander A.J. Burnett and defeated the Cardinals, 5-0, on Wednesday night at PNC Park.

The two teams split the rain-shortened two-game series.

Burnett allowed one hit in seven scoreless frames. He retired the first 16 Cardinals he faced and carried a no-hitter for 6 2/3 innings before Carlos Beltran smacked a double to right-center. Burnett notched eight strikeouts in the win, upping his record to 1-2.

"I'll take that every time out," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's knocking on the no-hitter door again. We've seen it before -- fastball command, hitting the four corners, very solid breaking ball. ... I mean, that's the rhythm when he's the beast that he can be, that's the rhythm you see. Efficient with pitches. Still, the strikeouts jumped his pitch count a little bit, but you couldn't ask for any more than we got out of him tonight."

"I remembered what they did last year, and that fired me up to go against them tonight," Burnett stated. "Not to mention that they're a pretty good lineup, so that always brings it out of you, but I was just trying to attack them. [Cards starter Shelby] Miller, he was impressive, too. I was just trying to go pitch for pitch with him, and then by the fourth or fifth, you look up and you notice it. I had a good hook today, and I threw some balls in that I don't normally throw in and caught them off guard, and [catcher] Russ [Martin] and I did a good job of mixing everything in."

Burnett's lights-out performance came on a night when he reached a milestone, getting Beltran to look at a called third strike for career strikeout No. 2,000.

"No, I don't think about things like that, but it's part of the game, it's a part of what I've done," Burnett said. "I thank Neil Walker for telling the infield to come in, that was his idea. Just the amount of love that these guys show me is really special."

Burnett ranks fourth among active pitchers in strikeouts, trailing only the Yankees' Andy Pettitte (2,327) and CC Sabathia (2,232), and the Phillies' Roy Halladay (2,080).

"He got 2,000 strikeouts tonight as well," Hurdle said. "You think, 'OK, it's all come together, here it is, this is going to be one, wrapped up with one big bow at the end. "The 2,000 strikeouts, there's more that goes into that. Anybody that downplays this, they haven't played the game, they don't respect the game, first of all. You've got to have skills, you've got to have stuff, you've got to have dependability, you've got to go to the post for a long time. 'Cause if you're just a thrower, you don't get 2,000 strikeouts, you don't pitch that long. So that's significant in and of itself, the way he maintained his composure. He threw that and just kept pitching, and no walks on the night ... impressive as well."

Burnett didn't allow a baserunner until he hit Daniel Descalso with a pitch.

Burnett tossed a no-hitter when he was with the Marlins, and he admits that he wants another one before the end of his career. But it wasn't to be, thanks to Beltran.

"[Beltran] hit a hook, it was up a little bit," Burnett said. "He covers everything. I looked at him at second and said, 'You can't swing and miss on one more for me?' and he smiled. He just put a good swing on a good hook."

"That was a slider right there," Beltran said. "I think that was one of the few that he threw right around the middle of the strike zone. He threw me a first one for a strike, and the second one was more hittable than the first one. I put a good swing on that one."

Miller allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. He took the loss, falling to 2-1 on the season.

"You've got to tip your hat to Miller," Hurdle said. "You saw why the numbers are what they are. We thought we had him in a place where we might be able to make him move, and he collected himself. That fastball showed up, that sharp breaking ball showed up and he held us at bay for quite a period of time without striking anything really hard."

The Pirates nicked Miller for a run in the bottom of the first. Starling Marte extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a leadoff triple off the Clemente Wall, and he scored on a base hit by Travis Snider.

"The first inning, I didn't feel near as sharp as I did the rest of the game," Miller said. "I was leaving the ball over the middle. They were hitting it hard. The leadoff triple didn't help. After that I made some good pitches."

The Pirates struck again in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Andrew McCutchen singled, Garrett Jones walked and Walker stroked an RBI single, giving the Pirates a two-run lead.

Pittsburgh tacked on an insurance run off reliever Trevor Rosenthal in the bottom of the seventh. Martin singled and later scored on a throwing error by third baseman David Freese. Gaby Sanchez's RBI double and Pedro Alvarez's run-scoring single in the eighth closed out the scoring.

The bullpen took it from there, with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jason Grilli combining to pitch scoreless eighth and ninth innings.

But the night belonged to Burnett.

"It makes my job a lot easier in the outfield," McCutchen said. "It's almost like I can get a lawn chair and just watch it. He was carving it up, he was doing a good job just making his pitches when he needed to make them. It was a great performance, and I was happy that I was a part of it. It was great that he was able to get 2,000 here and get it at home and get a win on top of it."

George Von Benko is a contributor to
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