Chen, Royals can't solve Pirates in series finale

Chen, Royals can't solve Pirates in series finale

Chen, Royals can't solve Pirates in series finale
PITTSBURGH -- A. J. Burnett didn't get a no-hitter, but he gave the Pirates just enough on a steamy Sunday afternoon by the Allegheny River.

Burnett went 7 1/3 innings and Pittsburgh completed a three-game Interleague sweep of Kansas City, 3-2, while 25,752 fans baked in the sun or sought out shade at PNC Park. The sizzling Bucs matched the weather, winning their fourth straight and 12th in their last 15.

But the Royals are fizzling, losing their fourth in a row after a period in which they won seven out of 10. In view of the four-game slide in which the Royals have scored a mere nine runs, manager Ned Yost was asked if a shakeup of some sort might be coming.

"When did we get our first hit -- the sixth inning?" Yost said. "They didn't quit -- they played their tails off, kept battling right to the very end. No, we don't shake anything up."

Burnett, the Pirates' 35-year-old right-hander, had a no-hitter going until there was one out in the sixth inning. On an 0-1 pitch -- Burnett's 70th delivery on the 85-degree afternoon -- Alex Gordon pulled a solid single between first and second base to snap the spell.

It was 11 years ago, May 12, 2001, that Burnett pitched a no-hitter for the Florida Marlins over the San Diego Padres. In that 3-0 victory, Burnett, then 24, made a whopping 128 pitches; he walked nine, hit one and struck out seven. Of course, that came on a 66-degree evening in balmy San Diego.

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Sunday's Burnett was older, but perhaps smoother and quite fine.

"He looked good when he has control of that slider, especially with two strikes. I've faced him before and he looked really good today, better than when I saw him in the past," Gordon said.

But these days, whether it's Burnett or somebody else, the Royals just aren't hitting in the clutch. They were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position in Sunday's loss.

Once Burnett was out of the game, the Royals had juicy chances. But with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, Mitch Maier took strike three from reliever Juan Cruz.

"That's the time when we need to capitalize and get those big knocks," Maier said. "That's how you win or lose games and we weren't able to do it this weekend."

With two on and two out in the ninth, Johnny Giavotella looked at three straight strikes from Bucs reliever Jason Grilli.

"They were good pitches," Giavotella said. "They just got on me quick and I couldn't react."

Early in the day, Andrew McCutchen made it his personal business to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead against left-hander Bruce Chen.

Alex Presley led off the Pirates' first inning with a single, moved up on a groundout and -- boom -- scored on McCutchen's double to right-center field. Neil Walker singled in the third inning and -- boom -- McCutchen pounded a home run into the left-field seats.

Chen explained that the scouting report said that McCutchen tends to chase after high pitches with two strikes.

"So we try up-and-away and he hit a double and we throw up-and-in and he hit a home run," Chen said. "Both times he had two strikes and I'm trying to get a strikeout, and we're trying to make him chase the ball. ... He swung -- but he didn't miss."

Not only that, McCutchen is poison to left-handers -- he's hitting .463 (25-for-54) against them this year with four homers.

"It's just one of those things, I guess. I see them a little better, I guess," McCutchen said. "I hadn't been feeling that great the past few days, but I figured a couple things out in the cage and was able to pretty much put a show forth today."

Royals outfielders also put a show forth at PNC.

With a runner at first in the Pirates' fourth inning, Josh Harrison sent the ball and center fielder Jarrod Dyson streaking toward the wall. Dyson won the race, caught the ball, wheeled and threw to second baseman Giavotella. His throw pulled Eric Hosmer off first base but he jumped for the grab and doubled up Rod Barajas, who had passed second base in anticipation of a hit and couldn't return in time.

With two out in the seventh inning, Maier charged after McCutchen's foul fly and, as he smacked into the padded fence, flipped spectacularly over the barrier and into a runway in front of the stands. Out was the call, the umpire not noticing that the ball escaped Maier's glove for a moment.

"At some point when my hands were on the ground, it slipped out. I don't know if the umpire saw it or what happened," Maier said. "I picked the ball up and said 'I caught it.'"

That was one small break the Royals got this weekend. There were darn few others.

"We're not getting it done," Yost said. "You can make up all the excuses you want. We've got to get hits with runners in scoring position. I'm done with making excuses. It's a hard game, there's nothing easy about it. And they will drive in runs, but we're just not doing it right now."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.