By Will Graves
May 23, 2015
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hits a two-run home run off New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey in the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A.J. Burnett insists this is it. That after 17 years in the majors, he is done whenever the Pittsburgh Pirates season ends, no matter what.
Funny, nobody told his stuff. The way Burnett is dealing at the moment, he hardly looks like a guy counting down the days to retirement.
Dazzling the New York Mets with impeccable command, Burnett won his fourth straight start in an 8-2 victory on Saturday, easily outdueling an uncharacteristically sloppy Matt Harvey to lower his ERA to 1.37, the best in the majors.
Heady stuff for a 38-year-old who led the National League in losses, walks and earned runs during a forgettable and injury-marred 2014 in Philadelphia.
''He's like a kid in the backyard out there that's having some fun that is being aggressive and very, very purposeful on the mound,'' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ''He's pitching as well as I've ever seen him pitch. He's doing more. He's doing his job.''
One that is helping the Pirates linger around .500 despite an uneven opening two months. Facing one of the game's brightest young talents in Harvey, Burnett (4-1) dominated, striking out 10 without walking a batter.
''I just look at leaving it all out on the field, knowing it's my last go around,'' Burnett said. ''It's fun to pitch for (my teammates), to be around them. They bring so much out of me.''
And for once Pittsburgh's offense gave Burnett plenty of wiggle room. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez both homered and drove in two runs while Josh Harrison extended his hitting streak to 10 games by going 2 for 4 with two RBI.
''It shows what we can do when we're ready to hit,'' Harrison said. ''We got some pitches today and we didn't miss them.''
Harvey (5-2) lasted only four innings, the shortest outing of his career. He gave up a career-worst seven runs on six hits and also threw two wild pitches, matching the number he had all of the 2013 season.
New York has dropped four of five. Daniel Murphy had two hits, and Ruben Tejada homered for the Mets.
''Everything was kind of all over the place,'' Harvey said. ''I wasn't locating obviously. My arm feels fine, my body feels fine. It was one of those days where if I tried to spin it, it was over the middle. If I tried to throw a fastball in, it was away and vice versa. It's just a pretty terrible outing. ''
The expected showdown between two players who came in ranked in the top 10 in ERA never materialized.
While Burnett's ERA ticked down after making a team-record ninth straight start allowing two runs or less, Harvey's shot up to 2.91 when McCutchen and Alvarez pounced on 96 mph fastballs and sent them to the deepest reaches of PNC Park.
McCutchen drilled his sixth homer of the season to the Pirates' bullpen beyond the wall in center to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead in the first. Alvarez - who sent a home run onto a boat in the Allegheny River on Tuesday - then led off the bottom of the second with a long drive to the last row of seats in right field to make it 3-0. The Mets and their ace never recovered in a rare misstep for the star in his return from elbow surgery that forced him to miss all of 2014.
''You still have to realize, he's (in his first year) back from the operation,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. ''He's looked so good and we just get so carried away that he's never going to have a bad day that when he does, it's shocking for us all.''
Mets: 3B David Wright's return from hamstring and back injuries hit another road block on Saturday when the team said the seven-time All-Star has been diagnosed with stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. Wright took live batting practice on Friday before his back flared up again. Wright, who hasn't played since mid-April, will rest for at least a week before being reassessed.
''It's just something that seems to be taking longer than we initially thought,'' Mets assistant general manager John Ricco said. ''The way it was progressing, (doctors) thought it would be gone by now.''
Pirates: OF Andrew Lambo's progress while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot has been slow. Manager Clint Hurdle said the foot ''is not showing any signs of improvement to get him into a game.''
The series concludes on Sunday when Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano (1-4, 4.15 ERA) faces New York's Jonathon Niese (3-4, 3.72). Liriano gave up seven runs in two innings against Minnesota on Tuesday and the Pirates are just 1-7 in Liriano's eight starts. Niese had similar troubles his last time out, getting tagged for eight runs in five innings during a loss to St. Louis.