The return of A.J. Burnett to PNC Park contained enough emotion on its own, but the pitching matchup Sunday afternoon added even more, as the former Pittsburgh Pirates ace squared off against protege Jeff Locke.
Locke got the better of his good friend, throwing eight innings to bolster the Pirates to a 6-2 victory against the Phillies, Pittsburgh’s 12th win in its past 15 games. Additionally, the Bucs (47-41) finished their 10-game homestand at 8-2 after their first sweep of the season, boosting them past the .500 mark and firmly into the National League playoff chase.
Pittsburgh jumped on Burnett as soon as a “welcome back” montage finished playing on the video board, striking for two runs in the first inning to take a lead it wouldn’t surrender. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker each singled, giving Russell Martin an opportunity against his old battery mate; he didn’t disappoint, driving a two-run double off the right-field wall with two outs.
In the third, Walker smacked a sacrifice fly to score Josh Harrison, who had hit a leadoff triple, giving Locke enough cushion to get comfortable. Locke continued his personal resurgence with by allowing just three hits over eight frames, tossing in four strikeouts and walking only one.
Burnett flashed his usual fastball-curveball combination to ring up seven punchouts, but Pittsburgh did just enough against him to carry a lead into the late innings. Marlon Byrd, also a former Pirate, drove in both Philadelphia runs, including an RBI single in the first that scored Jimmy Rollins, who sprinted to second base on Pedro Alvarez‘ latest ugly throwing error.
Byrd – a trade acquisition by the Pirates last summer – stroked a long solo home run to left in the seventh inning to cut the Phillies’ deficit to 3-2. Locke had retired 12 of 13 prior to the round-tripper, Byrd’s 18th of the season.
Harrison reached on a two-base error by Philadelphia third baseman Cody Asche to lead off the frame, followed by McCutchen’s RBI triple off the top of the wall in right-center against Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus. Starling Marte‘s bloop single off lefty Jake Diekman plated McCutchen for Pittsburgh’s fifth run, then Jordy Mercer pushed home a sixth with a deep sac fly to right.
Jared Hughes polished off the victory by dancing around a leadoff single, giving the Pirates their lone series sweep of 2014 after squandering their first nine opportunities to do so.