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Behind Burnett, Pirates strike back against Reds

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett celebrates after striking out the Reds' Henry Rodriguez during the seventh inning Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin celebrates his two-run homer with Pedro Alvarez during the second inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin hits a two-run homer during the second inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin watches his two-run homer during the second inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen dives back to first base as an errant throw gets past the Reds' Joey Votto during the sixth inning Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park. McCutchen advanced to third on play and later scored.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin celebrates his two-run homer with Pedro Alvarez during the second inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett reacts after striking out the Reds' Jay Bruce during the sixth inning Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett breaks his bat during the third inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd drives in a run with a sacrifice fly during the sixth inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez drives in a run with a single during the sixth inning against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates fans line the left field rotunda, as a sellout crowd watches against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau scores past Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan during the sixth inning Saturday, Sept. 201 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Reds reliever Zach Duke reacts after giving up a run during the sixth inning against the Pirates on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli pitches against the Reds during ninth inning Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes turns a double play on the Reds' Ryan Ludwick during the ninth inning Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates after the final out against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after the final out against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The moon rises over PNC Park during the Pirates game against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

Strikeout records are great, but Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett has bigger goals this season.

“I'll be gratified when we win it all,” Burnett said. “That's where my sights are.”

That's a mission for another day — the playoffs don't start until a week from Tuesday. For now, Burnett will take satisfaction from the record-setting 12 strikeouts he amassed Saturday in a 4-2 victory against the Reds.

The win moved the Pirates a game ahead of the Reds for the top National League wild-card spot and kept them two games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central title chase. The Pirates' magic number to clinch a postseason berth is three.

“I just want to go out and win for these guys,” Burnett said. “I was focused and locked in. It was probably the best command I've have of my (curveball) in a long time, and I mixed fastballs in when I needed them.”

To start the sixth inning, Burnett got Joey Votto to flail at a 2-2 curveball. It was Burnett's 200th strikeout of the season, making him the first Pirates pitcher to reach that mark since Oliver Perez had 239 in 2004.

An inning earlier, Burnett notched his 198th strikeout, which moved him past Marcus Baldwin (197 strikeouts in 1891) to set the single-season franchise record for a right-hander. The only other Pirates to surpass 200 strikeouts are lefties Perez and Bob Veale (who did it four times).

This is Burnett's third 200-strikeout season in 15 years in the majors. He fanned a career-high 231 batters in 2008 while with the Blue Jays.

“We're a better team with him than we were before he got here,” left-hander Jeff Locke said. “He boosts the confidence in the clubhouse. He's played a long time. He's won a World Series. He's done a lot of things that everyone around here wants to achieve. He's a role model.”

Russell Martin's two-run homer tied the game in the second inning. After that, Burnett (9-11) and Reds starter Homer Bailey put up zeros until the bottom of the sixth, when the Pirates scored twice to break a 2-2 tie.

“Burnett was at his finest once he got out of the early innings,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He had a tremendous breaking ball. You could see some of our top hitters were having trouble with it.”

Bailey (11-11) walked Andrew McCutchen with one out in the sixth. An errant pickoff throw sent McCutchen to third base. Justin Morneau walked. Marlon Byrd smacked a fly ball that center fielder Derrick Robinson caught near the wall. McCutchen trotted home, and Morneau went to second base.

With left-handed batter Pedro Alvarez due up, Bailey was replaced by lefty Zach Duke. The move backfired, as Alvarez lashed an RBI single into left field.

The Reds manufactured a run in the first inning. With one out, Brandon Phillips singled, and Joey Votto walked. On a 2-2 pitch, Ryan Ludwick lined an RBI single to center field.

Burnett struck out the side in the second, but the inning began with Zack Cozart drilling a solo homer on the first pitch.

“We were joking around on the bench,” Martin said. “After he gave up that second run, I said to him, ‘That's all we're giving up today.' He said, ‘Yes, sir.' ”

Martin tied it in the second with a two-run homer.

Morneau began the inning with a walk, but Byrd bounced into a double play. Alvarez reached when his grounder was booted by first baseman Votto. Martin launched the next pitch into the left-field bleachers.

Burnett settled in. After Votto dropped a one-out single into left field in the third, Burnett retired nine in a row, including five on strikeouts.

“From the third inning on, he got better every inning,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Once we got even at 2, he got after it.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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