But the Pirates ended on the wrong side of the duel, as the Mariners defeated the Buccos 2-1 to split the two-game interleague set, despite the Pirates (18-15) out-hitting Seattle (16-19) seven to three.
For the third time in three games, the Pirates were unable to capitalize on a golden opportunity in the first inning at the expense of an experienced starter, this time Hernandez.
“We’ve been getting pitched tough, it’s not like it’s chopped liver we’ve been these guys that have been out there those first innings. Gio Gonzalez put a foot down [Sunday], this guy [Hernandez] put a foot down.” Hurdle said. “But you need to capitalize. If you want to go further and create separation, those games are out there to be won…if you want more you’ve gotta do more.”
Starling Marte led off with a double down the left-field line, and is now 17-for-27 leading off ballgames, and Andrew McCutchen then stepped up with one out and delivered a base-knock up the middle to score Marte. McCutchen reached second when Hernandez issued just his third walk in his last 38 innings pitched to Garrett Jones.
But with two on and none out, Michael McKenry hit into an inning-ending double play.
From there, Hernandez (5-2) settled in to finish after eight innings of work, having allowed one run on six hits, one walk, and five strikeouts. Hernandez’s outing lowered his earned run average to an American League-best 1.53.
“That’s the guy that’s been showing up here for the last few years,” Hurdle said. “We had a couple opportunities we weren’t able to cash in on.
From the second through the eighth innings, Hernandez improved virtually through every inning and held the Pirates to just 4-for-23 hitting.
On the other side, A.J. Burnett started strong but couldn’t finish in the manner Hernandez did. Burnett threw just 32 pitches through three innings of perfect pitching, and appeared poised to pitch deep into Wednesday’s ballgame.
“That was a grown man out there doing some good work,” Hurdle said.
But a 29-pitch fourth inning derailed Burnett’s perfect pitching, as Michael Saunders worked a walk to lead off the inning and later scored with the help of two wild pitches by Burnett. The Mariners tied the game at 1-1, scoring a run before recording their first hit of the game in the fifth inning.
Burnett held the Mariners down until the seventh inning, when Jesus Montero hit the only ball to leave the infield against Burnett—a solo home run to right-center field that proved to be the game-winner for the Mariners.
“You hate to look at one pitch because you start questioning yourself, but I’m not going to,” Burnett said.
Endy Chavez’s fifth-inning base hit came as an infield single to Jordy Mercer at second, and all 21 of the outs Burnett record in his seven innings came via the lineout, groundout, or strikeout. Burnett finished after 109 pitches and seven innings, allowing two runs on two hits and four walks and struck out nine Mariner batters.
Burnett’s strikeouts pushed his season total up to a National League-leading 66 in his 49 innings of work.
“We battled, walked a couple guys that didn’t hurt us too bad,” Burnett said. “I went out there with conviction and Mac called a great game, it was fun working with him again.”
While Burnett delivered a masterful performance, the Pirate offense was unable to break through against Hernandez for any more runs. The most legitimate threat from the Pirate offense came in the fifth inning, when Jordy Mercer doubled to lead off the inning.
After reaching third base on a fly-out by Clint Barmes, Burnett and Marte each struck out to end the inning, stranding Mercer 90 feet from home plate.
Tom Wilhelmsen worked the ninth for Seattle to earn his ninth save of the season. Garrett Jones singled with two outs of the Mariners’ closer, but McKenry flew out to left to end the game.