As A.J. Burnett approached the third-base line Wednesday afternoon, he tipped his cap twice, first toward left field, then again in the direction of home plate.
Burnett didn't pitch particularly well. The game meant nothing to either team. Yet the crowd of 20,615 at PNC Park who attended the Pirates' final game of the season stood to show their appreciation as Burnett exited the field.
The Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves, 4-0, Wednesday afternoon. They finished the season with a 79-83 record, tying the highest win total in their 20-season losing streak.
That would seem more impressive if not for the misfortune that caused the Pirates to reach that point. They had a shot at the division title in August and remained in the wild card hunt into September. A 7-22 record in September abruptly ended the chase for a playoff spot and a winning record.
Burnett, who came over in a trade from the New York Yankees at the start of spring training, represented one of the many positive aspects of the first half of the Pirates' season. The 35-year-old right-hander finished 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA.
The final game encapsulated two of the Pirates' main issues this season into one nine-inning stint. They struggled at the plate and allowed stolen bases that led to runs.
Michael Bourn stole two bases, one without a throw, to set up a run after walking to lead off the game. Martin Prado's sacrifice fly scored Bourn to put the Braves ahead, 1-0.
Jason Heyward singled and stole second in the fourth, putting him in position to score on Dan Uggla's single. Brian McCann singled, but Juan Francisco grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Chipper Jones, appearing in his final regular-season game, hit a pinch-hit single in the sixth. Heyward followed with a single and Freeman's ground ball moved the runners to second and third. Uggla walked to load the bases.
A single and a ground ball moved two runs across and the Braves took a 4-0 lead.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, planning ahead to Friday's wild card game, assembled a bullpen game, spring training style, that stymied the Pirates' offense. They had two singles through seven innings.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published October 3, 2012 7:30 PM