It fit the trajectory of the Pirates' season that in the final game before the All-Star break, two of the main engineers behind the first-half success played large roles in a win.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen hit two home runs and pitcher A.J. Burnett stifled the San Francisco Giants. Neil Walker and the rest of the Pirates pitched in, and a 13-2 victory against the Giants Sunday at PNC Park moved the Pirates to 11 games over .500.
The Pirates improved to 48-37 and won their 10th game out of the past 12. They enter the All-Star break in first place in the National League Central Division.
"When they started doing well, it wasn't like, 'Oh my God, can you believe this? I never thought we'd be this good,'" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before the game. "There was the fact that we're terrible, and there was never the fact that we were really good. We didn't expect to be as bad as we were. We weren't surprised when we went out and did what we were able to do in the month of June and what we're doing now."
The Pirates entered the day with the best home record in the major leagues, and the win improved them to 29-14 at home. They had a 2.41 ERA at PNC Park this season entering the game.
"Last year, we got a good taste of it in the middle of the year," Walker said. "On the fan side of it, they were out in full force.
"It feels different this year. It feels more real. It feels more powerful."
Burnett (10-2) returned to top form after a so-so outing in his previous start, allowing two runs on four hits in 61/3 innings. He allowed a bloop single to Melky Cabrera in the first that fell between Drew Sutton and Walker, but no more hits until the sixth, when pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz singled.
Buster Posey doubled in the seventh before Pablo Sandoval homered, but by then, the Pirates had scored double-digit runs.
"It's fun to be a part of," Burnett said. "I'm proud to be able to take the mound for these guys."
Neil Walker had five hits, including a double and home run in addition to three singles.
"I feel good at the plate, and I'm happy about it," said Walker, who raised his average to .291. "July is usually a good month for me. When it gets hot, I usually start to feel a lot better."
McCutchen took a hanging off-speed pitch from Giants starter Tim Lincecum over the right-center field fence in the first.
Walker followed suit in the third, hitting a hanging curveball into the shrubbery in center field for his sixth home run of this season. He extended his hitting streak to 12 games.
McCutchen hit the first pitch he saw from George Kontos in the seventh in the same direction as his first home run, giving him 18 this season.
"He's done a real nice job of just staying on the ball, whereas last season, in the second half, he got off the ball quite frequently," Hurdle said of McCutchen's opposite-field home runs.
Three singles and a walk forced Lincecum (3-10) from the game in the fourth, and he allowed six runs on seven hits in 31/3 innings. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner, has allowed 69 earned runs this season, three more than he allowed in all of 2011.
Casey McGehee's single to the wall in left-center field in the sixth drove in two runs. The hit stayed a single because McGehee pulled up on his way to first. After a brief visit from Hurdle and a trainer, he left the game, and Gorkys Hernandez replaced him on the bases. The Pirates later announced that McGehee left the game because of a mild left groin strain.
The crowd inserted itself into the game, drawing McCutchen out of the dugout for a curtain call and standing to applaud Burnett as he left the mound in the seventh. Burnett acknowledged with a pump of his fist.
"I was so mad about that homer," Burnett said. "I instantly forgot about it. It's great. They accepted me from the get-go. The way they've been coming out and supporting us has a lot to do with the way you play.
"Being in the American League, in New York and Boston, you see those kind of crowds. I think a lot of young players play well in those kind of situations."
The Pirates will hold first place until at least Friday, when they resume play on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers.
"We've got a lot of games in the bank," Hurdle said. "We'll start out zero-zero in the second half and go to work."pirates
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published July 9, 2012 4:00 AM