A.J. Burnett returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates looking to cap his 17-year career by winning a World Series. He first gets a chance to assure his team of home-field advantage in next week’s NL wild-card game.
Burnett takes the mound for the final time in the regular season Saturday night against the Cincinnati Reds, losers of 13 straight.
Burnett (9-6, 3.15 ERA) spent two seasons in Pittsburgh before making a free-agent move to Philadelphia last year, going 8-18 with a 4.59 ERA.
The 38-year-old right-hander declined a $12.75 million option to stay with the Phillies and instead returned to the Pirates for $8.5, saying that’s where he belonged and that he wanted to "win a ring."
He has a chance at it with Pittsburgh (97-63) already headed to the postseason, and he can make sure the Pirates host a third straight wild-card game Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh needs a win or a Cubs loss at Milwaukee.
Starling Marte put the Pirates on the brink of that achievement with a walkoff homer in the 12th inning of a 6-4 win over Cincinnati on Friday. It was their 11th walkoff of the season, second in the league behind Chicago’s 13.
"It’s exciting, especially in this game where we’re trying to play at home," Marte said after the Pirates rallied from a 4-0 deficit. "We play good baseball at home. We want to make our fans happy. We want to play here."
Burnett surely shares that sentiment, especially against the Reds (63-97). He’s 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in six starts in this matchup at PNC Park. He last faced them at Cincinnati on July 30, surrendering eight runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 15-5 loss before he spent nearly six weeks on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow.
Burnett is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in four starts since returning, allowing two runs in six innings of a 4-0 road loss to the Cubs on Sunday.
The Reds hope to taste victory again before this season ends, having lost 13 straight since their last win Sept. 19. The 13-game skid is Cincinnati’s longest since 1945 and it hasn’t had a longer slide in a single season since dropping 14 in a row to end 1937.
"I’m kind of at a loss for words right now," manager Bryan Price said.
Joey Votto continues to be a bright spot, reaching base safely in 48 consecutive games to tie the franchise record set by Pete Rose in 1978. He’s hitting .357 with 55 walks over that stretch.
Votto, 10 for 31 with a homer off Burnett, has also reached base 316 times this season, equaling the club record he set in 2013.
The Reds hand the ball to Brandon Finnegan (1-2, 5.09), who is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in three starts – all on the road – since being recalled from Triple-A Louisville last month.
The 22-year-old left-hander, acquired from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto trade in July, gave up three runs and eight hits in five innings of a 5-1 loss at Washington on Monday.