A.J. Burnett didn't want to stop at 1992. He dialed the Bucs' way-back machine all the way to 1974 on Friday night, blanking Detroit for six innings on two hits to the delight of a sellout PNC Park crowd to win his seventh straight start, and the Pirates held off the Tigers, 4-1.
The last Pittsburgh pitcher to have such a streak was Dock Ellis, who won eight consecutive starts from July 15 to Aug. 27 in 1974.
"As long as we win, it's all good," said Burnett, who last won seven straight starts in 2005, when he had fewer tattoos and worry lines. "No, I don't feel young; this doesn't do it. I do feel like I can make a pitch when I need to with [catcher Rod Barajas] back there. It's been nothing but a blast to work with him again."
This latest blast took advantage of the Reds' loss to the Twins to move the Bucs within a game of the National League Central lead.
Burnett's outing was shortened to six innings by the stress of having to pitch out of two jams. But with the help of his bullpen buddies, Burnett (8-2) improved his record in PNC Park to 5-0, with an ERA of 1.11.
His pitching line was in absolute contrast to how he managed it. Lacking a chief weapon -- the "hook" Barajas described as a pitch "that comes in looking like a cookie then disappears" -- Burnett had to rely on nerve and guile.
Fortunately, he had plenty of both.
"He was able to slow things down and rely on his experience and his catcher," said manager Clint Hurdle. "He found a way to make pitches when he had to."
Burnett had to grind out the win in this game, even after he was no longer in it.
Jared Hughes surrendered a run on Ramon Santiago's RBI double in the seventh, but Tony Watson prevented further damage by coming in to fan Austin Jackson with two on and two outs. Jason Grilli had a stress-free eighth, as did Joel Hanrahan in the ninth to bag his 18th save.
Burnett had to work hardest in the sixth inning, which began with a Jackson single and Quintin Berry walk leading smack into the guts of the Detroit lineup. But at the end of a fierce battle, Burnett got Miguel Cabrera to bounce into a double play.
"There was no bigger pitch than his 94th of the night," Hurdle said of Cabrera's tailor-made hopper to shortstop Clint Barmes, "for the double play off the bat of one of the best hitters in baseball."
Burnett slammed the door on that opportunity by getting Prince Fielder to pop out meekly to deep third.
"That was a big inning for us," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "We had the big guys coming. You learn to expect so much from them. It's not fair. ... You get spoiled. You expect those big guys to do it every night. That's not going to happen. That's not fair."
As Burnett walked off the field with his four-run lead intact, he was escorted by the cheers of the 37,965 fans who sensed they had seen the last of him for the evening.
Burnett was involved in the second-inning play that doubled his lead from two runs to four, but admittedly in an unwitting manner. With Pedro Alvarez on second and Barajas on first with one out, Burnett bunted his intended sacrifice too hard, and Tigers starter Doug Fister had a chance to get a force at third. But Fister's throw sailed by Cabrera for one error, and when left fielder Delmon Young fumbled the overthrow for another, both runners scored.
The stocky Barajas did so with one of his patented shipwreck landings atop home plate.
"I got a good read, saw Delmon drop the ball, so I thought, 'All right, let me take a chance here,' and it worked out," Barajas said. "You want to score early and often, and as it turned out, that was the last run of the game.
"This team is starting to find ways to score runs, taking advantage of defensive miscues. We did the same thing in Cleveland. We need to stay positive and keep doing the same thing."
The game certainly got off to a positive beginning, with Burnett avoiding what appeared to be sure doom, then the Pirates jumping Fister for two runs.
The first three Detroit batters worked the count full and the second -- Berry -- walked. The fleet Berry stole his 10th base on the first pitch to Cabrera, who grounded out on a full-count pitch, and Berry advanced to third. But that's where he stayed when Fielder grounded out to end the inning.
Burnett needed 23 pitches to get that zero. By Fister's sixth pitch, the Pirates had a lead: Alex Presley led off with a double into the right-field corner and scored when Neil Walker slapped the very next pitch into center for a single; another run came in on Garrett Jones' double-play grounder to make it 2-0.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had his second consecutive three-hit game, going 3-for-4 to raise his average to .346. He has 14 hits in his last 25 at-bats.