A.J. Burnett pitched nine scoreless innings and the Bucs bullpen pitched two more as the Pirates outlasted the Phillies to complete a sweep with a 1-0 victory Sunday. It was the Pirates' third shutout in their last four games, following a 2-0 win against the Brewers Wednesday and a 1-0 win Friday.
Burnett was strong against his former team, striking out four batters and walking only one while requiring just 101 pitches to finish what might have been a complete game. But he also got plenty of help from his defense. Andrew McCutchen made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Ryan Howard of extra bases in the first. Then Sean Rodriguez made probably the game's best play, a perfectly timed diving catch on a line drive by Freddy Galvis in the fifth. And then it was Jung-Ho Kang, who snagged what could have been a leadoff double down the line and threw out Jeff Francoeur in the seventh. Burnett also got some help when Ben Revere got caught over-sliding third base on a steal attempt in the ninth.
In the meantime, though, the Pirates could do little against Cole Hamels, who struck out 12 batters while breezing through seven innings. I thought the Bucs would then be able to do damage against the Phillies' bullpen, but they didn't, as Ken Giles and Luis Garcia basically picked up where Hamels left off. (Clint Hurdle got ejected arguing balls and strikes while Garcia was pitching a scoreless ninth.)
Jared Hughes whizzed through a scoreless 10th with three ground-ball outs, but the Pirates failed to take advantage of a one-out double by Starling Marte against Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom half of the inning. Antonio Bastardo then pitched the top half of the 11th.
After Papelbon sat down the Bucs' first two batters in the bottom half of the inning, it looked like the game would continue forever ... until Neil Walker singled. Jose Tabata then reached as Galvis threw the third out away. Then up came Josh Harrison, who hit a hard grounder up the middle, and just like that, the Pirates had a 1-0 win.
Not that there weren't some stellar performances here by Burnett and the Pirates' defense, but the clearest advantage they had here was that they aren't the Phillies. And I don't just mean that the Phillies are bad. I mean they're bad in the kind of way that causes them to play through 10 scoreless innings and then lose after flubbing a throw. We're Pirates fans, so we've seen this kind of bad juju before, and finally, we've convinced it to drive a few hours down I-76.
But let's not just focus on the Phillies. The Pirates are now 35-27 -- six games behind the Cardinals, unfortunately, but only a game worse than the Dodgers (and a half-game worse than the Royals) for the second-best record in baseball. They're taking care of business in a big way.