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Loss in Pirates finale doesn't mar Burnett's year

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 7:46 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett says goodbye to the PNC Park crowd after being removed from the game against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday October 3, 2012 in the 2012 season finale. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

A.J. Burnett walked off the mound in the sixth inning with his team down, but the PNC Park crowd rose to its feet and the veteran right-hander waved his cap in appreciation as he headed to the dugout.

Burnett was criticized often during his turbulent three-year tenure with the Yankees but reinvented himself after being traded to the Pirates in February with two years left on a five-year, $82.5 million deal.

“To have (the fans) stand up like that once again on a day when things didn't go right, it's special,” Burnett said. “Obviously we didn't end up where we wanted to, but I think coming here helped me find myself and helped me get back to loving the game again.”

Burnett, 35, opened the season on the disabled list, then amassed a 10-2 record with a 3.68 ERA during the season's first half. Following a 12-run, 12-hit, 2 23-inning disaster in St. Louis on May 2, he didn't lose another decision until July 15.

He nearly no-hit the Cubs on July 31 and in his next start Aug. 5 at Cincinnati defeated the Reds when the Pirates were still second in the NL Central and very much in the pennant race. Burnett was named the NL Player of the Week on Aug. 6.

As the Pirates tailed off, so did Burnett. He won two of his last nine decisions, including a 10-6 victory over the Dodgers in which he told Hanley Ramirez to “sit the (heck) down.”

He finished with 16 wins, the second most of his career and two shy of matching the 18 he won with Toronto in 2008.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle believes the success Burnett had this season re-awakened the veteran.

“The things he still wants are still out there, and the fact that he scratched the surface of getting a no-hitter, that got the hair up on his neck,” Hurdle said. “The fact that people were talking about him for a short period for the Cy Young, that got the hair up on his neck. There are still golden rings on that merry-go-round that this man wants to grab.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7980 or kprice@tribweb.com.

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