CHICAGO -- A.J. Burnett was four outs away from a no-hitter. Instead, he earned a standing ovation from the Wrigley Field crowd.
Burnett pitched a one-hit, complete-game shutout Tuesday night as the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs, 5-0.
With laser-like command and a cruel curveball, Burnett breezed through the Cubs lineup for the first few innings. It didn't take him long to think about notching a no-hitter.
"About the third or fourth inning," Burnett said. "I'm not going to lie."
He also thought back to 2001, when he threw his only no-hitter as a member of the Florida Marlins. Then, in a 3-0 victory against the San Diego Padres, Burnett walked nine.
"I always think about that," Burnett said. "I want to clean that one up. That was a wild one."
His performance Tuesday was much cleaner as he walked two and hit another. He was efficient, too, throwing 109 pitches, 73 for strikes.
It would have been the seventh no-hitter in franchise history and first since Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined for a 10-inning no-hitter against the Houston Astros July 12, 1997 at Three Rivers Stadium.
"That's one of the best games I've seen pitched," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Ever."
Burnett took the no-hit bid into the eighth. And with each borderline pitch, the 33,158 at Wrigley Field oohed and aahed, egging on the right-handed veteran to make a run at history. After Adrian Cardenas singled to right on a line drive over Neil Walker's head, the crowd rose to its feet to applaud Burnett.
"That's part of Wrigley," Burnett said, with a smile.
The Cubs avoided being no-hit for the first time in the past 47 years, the longest streak in the majors.
"Good fastball, good breaking ball," said Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. "He pitched a very good game. I'm happy for him because of what he's been through."
Burnett earned his team-leading 13th win of the season, also tied for the second most in the National League. He also moved to 6-1 in starts after a Pirates loss.
"He's as good as I've had after a loss," Hurdle said. "We're in good hands when he has the ball."
Burnett's strong outing helped end a two-game skid for the Pirates, who moved three players off their active roster Tuesday.
Cubs starter Casey Coleman was the loser and left the game with two outs in the fifth, having surrendered four earned runs on seven hits. He struck out five and walked four.
But the pitcher the Pirates (59-44) beat Tuesday night was not supposed to start the game. Those duties initially belonged initially to Ryan Dempster, who was traded to the Texas Rangers four hours before first pitch.
Before he left to join his new team, Dempster joked with reporters that he likely would have thrown a no-hitter against the Pirates.
Since the start of the series Monday, the Cubs (43-59) have traded away four players for prospects.
Walker drove in all five runs, tying a career high.
His grand slam gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead in the first. He waited for a 2-1 changeup and sent it high into the sky, where the wind held it up a bit. When the ball landed in the second row of the right-field bleachers, Walker pumped his fist before high-fiving first-base coach Luis Silverio.
It was the 11th home run this season for Walker, who also hit his first career grand slam at Wrigley Field in 2010.
"Two career grand slams, both at Wrigley Field, both left-handed, both into right field," Walker said. "I don't know, I like the 'Friendly Confines,' I guess."
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 1, 2012 4:30 AM