Burnett walks off to ovation, even without win

Burnett walks off to ovation, even without win

Burnett walks off to ovation, even without win
PITTSBURGH -- It was a different kind of walk-off day for the Pittsburgh Pirates, two of whom walked off the PNC Park field into the shadows of the offseason during the ultimate loss, 4-0 to the Braves, on Wednesday afternoon.

A.J. Burnett couldn't take his walk on the green carpet in full glory, departing with two outs, two runs in and two men still on base in the sixth inning. The big-picture crowd of 20,615 accorded him a properly loud sendoff, in recognition of the veteran's stellar body of season work.

Manager Clint Hurdle made sure his ace had that moment under the spotlight.

"Clint could have kept me out there through that inning, but he said I deserved it," Burnett said. "To have them stand up like that on the last day, when things didn't go right ... that's special."

By not "go right," Burnett was not referring to the day but to the season, which the Pirates ended with 79 wins. Matching the best since 1992, but not matching their expectations.

"I felt we were better than 79 wins. Our goal was to win more games. We need to do better," said Hurdle, confident his stable included the horses to get it done. "We've got players in place who are going to be here when we do win a division title, and when we do play a playoff game."

The center of that core also got his moment at center stage. Shortly after taking center field following his final at-bat of the season, Andrew McCutchen was removed in the top of the eighth so he could jog in under a canopy of cheers, from both fans in the stands and his fellow players standing in his dugout.

Greeting him in that dugout, Hurdle whispered in his ear, simply and biblically, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

On the Atlanta side, the ultimate curtain call belonged to Chipper Jones, who pinch-hit in the sixth inning and, in the 8,984th and final regular-season at-bat of his career, collected his 2,726th hit with a sharp single to right on Burnett's first pitch to him.

Did Burnett groove one, out of respect?

"Nah, I was throwing pitches like that to everybody," said Burnett, who allowed eight hits and four runs in his 5 2/3 innings. "I was missing a lot, wasn't getting in there quite enough.

"I faced [Jones] plenty of times. He's got plenty of hits off me [15 in 41 at-bats]. But it was good to see him get out there, especially on his last day like that."

Jones was not the only retiring Braves player who took a notable last bow: Ben Sheets, the right-hander who has battled injuries for years before making a significant comeback this season, started what he proclaimed would be his final career appearance and struck out two in a perfect first inning to set a tone.

In what amounted to a "Fall Training" game for the playoff-bound Braves, seven other pitchers finished off a combined four-hitter. Atlanta will take on the Cardinals in the Wild Card game on Friday.

One of those hits was by McCutchen, setting his hit total at 194, very likely a National League-leading number. He finished four hits ahead of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and five ahead of the Giants' Marco Scutaro, both of whom were set to play later on Wednesday.

"It was pretty good," McCutchen said of a breakout season he wound up with a .327 average, 31 homers, 96 RBIs and 107 runs -- all, comfortably, career highs. "I really enjoyed it. Now it's all about trying to maintain and becoming more consistent."

Very legitimately, Burnett (16-10) has pitched like a 20-game winner, held short of that mark by lamentable lapses in his run support. He won only one of his last nine starts -- because he was backed by a total of seven runs in the other eight.

He never harped on the lack of offensive help or, for that natter, any of his personal numbers.

"Helping get team wins is all that mattered," Burnett said. "They brought me in here to help themselves, and to help me get back to loving the game again. Obviously we didn't end up where we wanted, but I had a good time.

"These guys took me in from the get-go, even before I broke my face in Spring Training. And the fans were the same way. Trust me -- we're just as upset as they are, to throw away the chance we had."

Atlanta's first two runs were the products of stolen bases, not a surprise with Burnett on the mound.

Michael Bourn led off the first with a walk and proceeded to steal both second and third before scoring on Martin Prado's sacrifice fly. In the fourth, Jason Heyward led off with a single and stole second before scoring on Dan Uggla's one-out single.

Those three upped the theft total in Burnett's starts to 38, in 38 attempts. Both times runners were "caught stealing" on his watch, they were actually picked off first base.

The NL runner up in allowing steals is Atlanta's Tommy Hanson, with 31 -- but he also has 11 runners caught stealing on his record.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com 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.