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Burnett relishes ovation following 9-inning gem

Right-hander allows just five hits and fans four in scoreless effort

PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Burnett took a long, slow walk to the dugout after the top of the ninth inning of Sunday afternoon's 1-0 extra-innings win. The crowd at PNC Park began cheering before he even reached the third-base line and didn't stop there.

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The 38-year-old right-hander held his glove in his right hand and raised it above his head, prompting an even louder response. Burnett earned that recognition by firing nine scoreless innings against the Phillies, and the 34,518 fans in attendance earned theirs from Burnett.

"That's one of the reasons I like playing here. They watch. They know the game," Burnett said. "When the crowd's like that, you've got to acknowledge them. ... It fires me up."

Burnett had plenty of reasons to be fired up after his best start of the year, a scoreless nine-inning performance the Pirates went on to win on Josh Harrison's walk-off single in the 11th.

It was the first time since 2012, and the 10th time in his 17-year career, that Burnett has pitched nine innings without allowing a run. And it was about as pitch-efficient as he's ever been in doing so.

Burnett sat down 27 hitters, gave up five hits and a walk and struck out four on only 101 pitches, 71 of them for strikes. He retired 18 batters on three pitches or fewer.

"Pitch efficiency all over the place," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "All over the place."

The outing lowered Burnett's ERA to a minuscule 1.89 on the year. The only National League pitcher with a lower ERA resides a few lockers away -- Gerrit Cole, who owns a 1.71 mark through his first 13 starts.

"He's still ahead of me?" Burnett said, jokingly. "When you watch him do what he does, then I get to come out behind him, it's motivation. It makes me want to go a little more."

Burnett was also motivated by facing Hamels, his teammate in Philadelphia last year. The Phillies' ace struck out 12 batters and shut out the Pirates over seven innings.

"I tried to stay with him," Burnett said. "He's a competitor like me and I enjoy going up against him."

As it turned out, Burnett was able to stay with Hamels, who came out of the game after seven innings.

Burnett's day ended two innings later, when he took that long walk into the Pirates' dugout and received an ovation he's come to appreciate even more in what he's said will be his final season.

"I didn't think about it until you just said that, but probably. Probably, yeah," Burnett said. "They've always been like that to me here. That's one of the bigger reasons I came back."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett