HOUSTON -- A.J. Burnett became the first Pirates pitcher to win 16 games in a season since 1991 in an 8-1 victory against the Astros this afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
Burnett allowed one earned run on four hits in eight innings to improve his record this season to 16-8. He struck out 11 batters and walked one. Zane Smith (16-10) and John Smiley (20-8) were the last Pirates pitchers to win at least 16 games in a season.
It was Burnett's first win since Aug. 16, pitching well in that span but lacking run support. He got it Sunday, one of the few instances in an ugly stretch for the Pirates where pitching and offense played well on the same day. Burnett even got into the action on offense, driving in his second run of the season with an eighth-inning single.
The Pirates tallied 18 hits, the most they've hit in a game since also hitting 18 July 2. Their season high is 19, set June 29 against St. Louis.
With the win, the Pirates (75-77) avoided a sweep against the Astros (50-103), who have had a stranglehold on the worst record in baseball for most of the second half of the season.
Jordan Lyles took the loss for Houston, his third loss of the season against the Pirates. The Astros lost all four starts he made against the Pirates.
Lyles allowed three earned runs on six hits in four innings, walking one and striking out four.
The Pirates scored four runs in the fifth inning, driving in all of their runs without a hard-hit ball. Alex Presley and Josh Harrison started the inning with back-to-back singles, and Andrew McCutchen drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. McCutchen was the last batter Lyles faced.
Reliever Wesley Wright hit Gaby Sanchez on the foot, scoring Presley and giving the Pirates the first run of the game.
Two batters later, Jose Tabata drew a four-pitch walk from Mickey Story, scoring Harrison. Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas each followed with bloop singles that barely cleared shortstop Tyler Greene's head in shallow left field, each plating a run as the Pirates climbed ahead, 4-0.
The inning featured 10 hitters, four hits, two walks and one hit batter.
Andrew McCutchen added to the Pirates' lead with an RBI double in the sixth inning. He finished the game 2 for 5 with a run, an RBI and a walk. Harrison, making his first start since Sept. 12, went 4 for 6.
Scott Moore ended Burnett's shutout bid with a solo home run in the sixth inning lacing a ball into the Astros' bullpen in right-centerfield.
Harrison saved a run in the third inning by containing a single and throwing out a runner at home plate. With Jose Altuve on second, Scott Moore hit a ground ball single that glanced off Harrison's glove at second base and trickled into shallow centerfield. Harrison sprinted to the ball, slid to stop his momentum and fired home. The ball beat Altuve by a couple steps, and Rod Barajas tagged him out to end the inning.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published September 23, 2012 9:30 PM