'King Felix' outduels A.J. Burnett as game lives up to hype

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Sometimes, a pitchers' duel is a chess match. And, sometimes, the King forces the checkmate.

Seattle starter Felix Hernandez lived up to his royal billing, allowing one run over eight innings as the Mariners beat the Pirates, 2-1, Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park. Hernandez, a former Cy Young winner nicknamed "King Felix," bested Pirates starter A.J. Burnett in a battle of aces.

Burnett allowed fewer hits (two) and had more strikeouts (nine) than Hernandez, who gave up six hits and struck out five. The Mariners (16-19), however, made the most of their few offensive opportunities while the Pirates (18-15) squandered theirs.

"It was fun going out there against him," Burnett said. "You live for those kinds of games. ... You try to throw up zeros just like he did and go pitch for pitch. You know it's going to be a close game."

Burnett (3-3) lasted seven innings, allowing two earned runs and walked four.

The Mariners only hit one ball out of the infield against Burnett, but it also left the ballpark.

Burnett's worst pitch was his 100th, an elevated first-pitch fastball to Jesus Montero. He watched it sail into the seats beyond the center-field wall.

"It was the only pitch to a righty that came back over the plate all day," Burnett said.

Montero's third home run this season broke a 1-1 tie and gave Hernandez (5-2) all the lead he needed.

He wasn't pushing the limits of the radar gun, but he didn't have to the way he located his pitches. He walked one and, after an eventful first inning, he seized control.

"He wasn't really overpowering with his fastball or anything that way," Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes said. "He just did a good job of spotting his pitches and keeping us off balance."

Hernandez has beaten the Pirates in his only two career starts against them, pitching eight innings both times. He pitched eight scoreless innings in a victory against the Pirates in 2007.

The Pirates have a two-game trip to Seattle next month, so there is a chance they could face him again.

"The game was, as advertised, with the two pitchers out there battling," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, "like two kids in the back yard."

The Pirates grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first while Hernandez briefly struggled.

Starling Marte led off the inning with a double down the left-field line. Two batters later, Andrew McCutchen smacked a single off the pitcher's mound and through the middle of the infield, scoring Marte.

But the Pirates missed a good chance to further inflict damage. After Hernandez walked Garrett Jones to put runners on first and second with one out, he got Michael McKenry to ground into an inning-ending double play.

The Pirates wasted an opportunity to break a 1-1 tie in the fifth. Jordy Mercer led off with a double down the right-field line. He took third when Barmes lined out to right -- after Barmes attempted to bunt him over. But he was stranded when the next two batters struck out, including Burnett while trying to bunt.

Hurdle said he called a "safety squeeze," which the Pirates worked on in spring training because Burnett struggled to put the ball in play last year with a runner on third base and less than two outs.

Burnett was brilliant early, retiring the first nine batters -- striking out five -- on 32 pitches in three innings.

But he let the Mariners tie the score in the fourth without a hit. He allowed his first baserunner when he walked leadoff batter Michael Saunders.

He threw a wild pitch, allowing Saunders to reach second, and walked Jason Bay, putting runners on first and second with no outs.

Burnett nearly escaped unscathed. But a 1-2 fastball to Dustin Ackley with two outs missed by just a hair inside as home-plate umpire Paul Schrieber called it a ball.

"I just think sometimes my stuff is nasty, so sometimes they miss it, too," Burnett said.

The next pitch, a curveball, bounced in the dirt and away from McKenry as Saunders scored to make it 1-1.

It was only the second time since Burnett joined the Pirates last year that McKenry has caught Burnett. His usual catcher this season, Russell Martin, missed a second consecutive game because of a stiff neck.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 or Twitter @msanserino. First Published May 9, 2013 4:15 AM


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