Correia stifles Braves in final start of season

Correia stifles Braves in final start of season

Correia stifles Braves in final start of season
PITTSBURGH -- If Kevin Correia is not re-signed by the Pirates, the veteran right-hander has put his own spin on that proverbial lament, "He learned to say 'hello' when it was time to say 'goodbye.'"

In the case of Correia, he would have learned to win in PNC Park when it was time to leave.

The pitcher whose home failures had clouded a 2011 All-Star season exerted his will on a makeshift lineup of Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night, hurling six-hit ball for 6 2/3 innings in a 5-1 Pirates victory.

Correia, who will soon formally become a free agent, improved to 7-3 in PNC Park, in sharp contrast to his 2-8 home record last season.

It was a reassuring way to finish the season for a guy forced to confront his insecurities in late-July, when he was moved from the rotation to make way for the new guy (Wandy Rodriguez) despite being on a six-game winning streak.

"It's huge," Correia said of his farewell performance, in which he walked one and struck out five. "It seems like when you go into the offseason on a bad note, you can't stop thinking about it for weeks. So it's nice to go out on a positive note."

Garrett Jones provided the big blow of support, a two-run homer in the fifth that raised the club's season total to 170, one short of the team record set in 1999. The Pirates have one game remaining, Wednesday afternoon's swan song against Atlanta. Starling Marte went 3-for-5, stole two bases and scored twice.

While giving the Bucs consecutive wins for the first time in a month to put them in position to close it out with 80 wins for the first time since 1992, Correia matched a career high with his 12th win. He won 11 of his last 17 decisions.

"I made some [second-half] adjustments. I wanted to strike out a few more guys, cause I knew I could," said Correia. "I had a couple of things not go my way, or I could've had a great second half. The team didn't finish like I wanted it, so it didn't feel that great.

"But when I look back at it later, I think I'll be happy with it overall."

Right-hander Tommy Hanson, one of three "regulars" in the Braves' lineup the night after their postseason rank was finalized, surrendered a game-opening double to Marte, who eventually became Andrew McCutchen's 96th RBI on an infield grounder.

Otherwise, McCutchen went 0-for-4, as his average dropped to .327, ending his chances in a National League batting race he led most of the way until being overtaken by San Francisco catcher Buster Posey days ago.

"That's the way it goes," McCutchen said, with a wry grin. "All it is is a trophy that says you're the best hitter in the league. I know my place."

The Bucs doubled Correia's lead to 2-0 in the second when Clint Barmes' single scored Josh Harrison, who'd been plunked with a two-out pitch and stole his way into scoring position.

Jones pulled his 27th homer in the fifth with Alex Presley aboard after having doubled home Marte, making it 5-1.

If this was Correia's Pirates finale, he definitely was given a chance to end his two-year tenure with dignity. While there have been a lot of cast changes around him the last few weeks with an eye on 2013 -- such as having rookies Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke in the rotation -- once Correia was brought back into the rotation in September, he continued to get the ball every five days.

As a courtesy, to allow him to improve his market position?

"I don't want to say it was a reward," said manager Clint Hurdle. "I felt he was deserving of the starts, that's the best way to put it, with the way he's pitched and what he's done. He's given us that steady guy in the rotation. Since he went back in, the numbers speak for themselves.

"He's been able to honor the contract, with the number of games he's won and the innings he's pitched," added Hurdle, alluding to the two-year, $8 million deal Correia signed as a free agent prior to the 2011 season. "He was a guy who wanted to be more than a No. 5, and we gave him that opportunity. He came in and pitched well."

Did Hurdle try to make sure he also went out well? That was the perception formed by the removal of Correia in the seventh after he had allowed a two-out hit in a game he led by four runs.

Having thrown 97 pitches, Correia obviously was not returning for the eighth inning anyway. So did Hurdle want to make sure he got a proper sendoff, which 15,727 indeed accorded him with their loud cheers?

"No. We did talk about it in the dugout before the inning," Hurdle said, "but I don't orchestrate things like that. It got to the point in the game where a move needed to be made. So it's just the way it worked out."

Hurdle, however, is as sentimental and supportive as the next guy. So do not be surprised if the way the Pirates' season finale works out is this: A.J. Burnett, the day's starter, and McCutchen get mid-inning walk offs, ushered by the crowd's huzzahs.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.