Four outs later, the right-hander virtually chased out of New York into the welcoming embrace of Pittsburgh, who has spent four months repaying that resuscitating gesture, finished with his loudest -- and quietest, when the other team was at-bat -- payment yet.
Burnett provided the latest signature moment of a magical Pirates season with a masterful one-hit, 5-0 victory over the Cubs in front of 33,158 appreciative fans who tried to cheer away Burnett's obvious frustration upon Cardenas' clean, hard-hit liner to right field.
Burnett's irritation could have only grown as he followed Cardenas' single by retiring the last four men he faced to complete his first shutout in over six years, since June 27, 2006, with two walks and eight strikeouts.
Burnett stayed behind the mound quite a while after the hit, collecting himself.
"It's a short road from no-no to oh-oh. I didn't want to go there," Burnett said. "I was able to regroup and make pitches, calm down and finish. But I was upset."
The 2-2 pitch was borderline. However, as they gathered in the small visitors' clubhouse of Wrigley Field, one Pirates player was overheard telling others, "It was a ball."
"It was close," said catcher Rod Barajas. "I'm not going to sit here and say it was a strike. If he would've called it a strike, I would've been ecstatic."
Disappointment mixed with anger as Burnett stewed on the grass.
"A little of both," he admitted. "But it goes both ways -- I was reacting to what was on the line obviously -- but [Nelson] called a great game. I stayed with the hook away, and got some calls. I would loved to have had that one. I'm still trying to clean that  no-hitter up."
Burnett issued nine walks in that 3-0 victory with the Marlins in San Diego. So the soil remains. But the soap is still in his hands, every five days.
"That must've been the fifth or sixth time he's gone four, five innings without giving up a hit," Barajas said. "With him, [the possibility of a no-hitter] always pops in the back of my mind by the third inning. Certain guys just have that stuff
With the help of Neil Walker's career-high-tying five RBIs, Burnett (13-3) thus offered more practical evidence of the Pirates' culture revolution the night after they had been spanked 14-4.
"I thought he had a shot. He was so
efficient," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The curve was so sharp. First strikes to 25 of 31? That was one of the best games I've seen pitched -- ever."
Burnett issued two walks -- to Anthony Rizzo in the fourth and to David DeJesus in the sixth -- and plunked Darwin Barney in the helmet with his first pitch to him with one out in the eighth.
Asked whether he had just pitched the best game of a 14-year, 328-start career, Burnett said, "Pretty close. A lot of things were going on tonight, control-wise. Also had probably my best curve."
Walker gave Burnett an immediate boost in the first inning, following infield singles by Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen and a walk to Garrett Jones with his second career grand slam. The drive into the right-field bleachers was Walker's 11th of the season.
The debut of Snider's Major League career had occurred behind a battery of A.J. Burnett and Rod Barajas and had gone well, but not nothing like this. On Aug. 29, 2008, Snider made his big league debut with Toronto in a game pitched by Burnett and caught by Barajas. Snider went 1-for-3 in that game at Yankee Stadium.
Snider's debut with the Pirates came with the same pair on the mound and behind the plate. He had to be convinced the grand slams and no-hit bids do not happen every day.
The 13 wins equal the second-best total of Burnett's career, when he went 13-9 for the 2009 Yankees. Only in '08, when he was 18-10 with the Blue Jays, has he won more. He finished July that season, incidentally, with a record of 12-9.
So it is safe to say Burnett, at 35, has found a new level. His record has never stood 10 games over .500. And he continues to wave off personal achievements, being completely vested in the Pirates' team identity.
In his previous start, Thursday in Houston, Burnett received three runs before he had to take the mound. A pitcher could get used to this.
"This team ... it doesn't matter if we get blown away," Burnett said. "They come back the next day and play. I'm proud to be a part of them."
Cubs starter Casey Coleman, of course, was on the mound because earlier in the day the Cubs had traded their scheduled starter. Would it have made a difference had Ryan Dempster been on the mound?
Maybe not: Walker's first career grand slam had come here on April 1, 2011 -- off Dempster.