Andrew McCutchen had to go golfing Friday night. But his swing on a trailing curveball lifted the Pirates to a win.
McCutchen homered in the seventh inning, breaking a tie as the Pirates beat the Reds, 6-5, at PNC Park.
McCutchen started his at-bat against Cincinnati Reds reliever J.J. Hoover with two strikes and fouled off a couple 1-2 pitches before making good contact on a pitch with which few hitters could do much damage. Hoover's curveball left his hand heading toward the middle of the strike zone, and dropped away from McCutchen toward the bottom outside corner.
McCutchen plastered the pitch into the bleachers in left field, his second home run of the season and the first for the Pirates at PNC Park this year.
He went 2 for 4 with three RBIs and helped the Pirates overcome a big game from Brandon Phillips, who hit two home runs in a game for the 10th time in his career.
Phillips belted a two-run shot off Pirates reliever Tony Watson in the seventh inning that made the score 5-5. It was the culmination of a four-run rally that started after the Pirates jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second inning.
To get the final out of the game, closer Jason Grilli struck out Phillips with the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at first to pick up his fourth save of the season.
The bullpen collapse spoiled another good outing from A.J. Burnett, who is winless in three starts in which he pitched well enough to earn a win.
Burnett allowed three earned runs over six innings, giving up six hits and striking out eight batters. He finished the game two strikeouts shy of 2,000 for his career and is currently 69th on the all-time strikeouts list.
Burnett left the game with a 5-3 lead, the first run support Burnett has received this season. The Pirates didn't score in the 11 prior innings Burnett was on the mound this season and hadn't scored at PNC Park with Burnett on the mound since Aug. 27, 2012.
But the Reds chipped away at the deficit, little by little, with a pair of RBIs from catcher Devin Mesoraco.
Jay Bruce scored in the fourth inning when Mesoraco grounded out to third, and Cozart scored in the sixth when Mesoraco doubled to the left field warning track, cutting the Pirates' lead to 5-3 and setting up Phillips' big blast.
The Reds threatened again in the seventh when Chris Heisey drew a one-out walk off reliever Tony Watson, bringing Joey Votto to the plate. Marte made a backhanded, diving catch on a Votto line drive that, had it fallen, would have scored Heisey.
The Pirates pounced on Reds starter Mike Leake in the second inning, scoring four runs on five hits to take a 5-1 lead and put Burnett in command.
All five of the Pirates' hits in the inning were singles.
Travis Snider sparked the big inning when he hustled down the first-base line after hitting a blooper just beyond second base. Clint Barmes smacked a single to center field, and Starling Marte was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Neil Walker with one out.
Walker hit a rope toward center, just beyond the reach of Reds shortstop Zack Cozart, scoring Snider and Barmes, and Andrew McCutchen followed with a single down the left field line, scoring Marte and Walker and giving Burnett a sizable cushion.
Leake (0-1) settled in after the second, never allowing more than one baserunner in an inning. He allowed five earned runs on 10 hits in six innings.
Russell Martin's second hit of the season gave him his first RBI as a Pirate -- and gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the first inning. With two outs and runners on first and second, Martin hit a ground-ball single through the left side of the infield, scoring Neil Walker from second base.
Martin's last RBI came 17 games prior in the American League Divisional Series as a member of the New York Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles.
But the lead was short-lived. Phillips led off the second inning with a solo home run, two pitches into the at-bat. He drove an 0-1 fastball, left up in the zone, over the 399-foot mark in center field to knot the score, 1-1.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published April 13, 2013 2:45 AM