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PIT@ATL: Burnett strikes out eight over six innings

ATLANTA -- On the return to their 2011 Waterloo, the Pirates couldn't prevent their history from repeating. This time, it didn't take 19 innings or a plate umpire's controversial call.

However, they still came up short in an affair that was taut, until the Braves jumped the Bucs' bullpen for four late runs in a 6-1 victory on Friday at Turner Field.

And a catcher was still in the middle of it. Last July 26, it had been Michael McKenry, who had applied that 19th-inning tag on Julio Lugo not seen by Jerry Meals, whose spread arms sent the Bucs into an endless spiral.

Friday night, it was Rod Barajas, who orchestrated another stellar start out of a starting pitcher. But in the batter's box, rather than squatting behind it, Barajas had another trying time.

And on this occasion, there was no hiding it, because it came at the fourth-inning focal point. The Bucs had just dented Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson with the tying run, had the bases loaded with one out in a 1-1 game, had Barajas at bat, had another chance to fulfill manager Clint Hurdle's recurring wish.

"We're still looking to get that big hit at a big time," Hurdle said. "We need that one hit. A knockout punch. Rod was looking for the slider -- and he got it."

And bounced it hard, but right at Chipper Jones, who stepped on third and fired across the diamond for the easy inning-ending double play.

"When I get the pitch I'm looking for, most of the time I put a good swing on it. Maybe it broke more than I expected," Barajas said after another 0-for-3 had lowered his average to .114. "I hit the ball with the right trajectory, just missed it a little bit.

"This game will drive you nuts. I have to try to remember that I've done this before; I'd rather dwell on that than have all these negative thoughts."

The Braves unlocked the 1-1 tie in the bottom of that inning, and after being held at bay for six innings by A.J. Burnett, turned it into what qualifies this season as a blowout.

Thus the Bucs lost not only a game but also their season-opening streak of games without scoring or allowing more than five runs, which ended at a Major League record of 18.

The 2-1 deficit bequeathed by Burnett quickly spun out of control in the seventh as the Braves loaded the bases against lefty Tony Watson and unloaded them against Evan Meek on a two-run double by Dan Uggla and a two-run single by Jones.

"He's always tough," Uggla said of Burnett. "He really battled us good. But we had an opportunity late the ballgame, and we took advantage of it."

A two-out walk did in Burnett. It came early -- in the bottom of the fourth -- but the Pittsburgh offense couldn't overcome its consequence. Burnett issued it to Jason Heyward, who then stole second before scoring on Tyler Pastornicky's line-drive single over second baseman Neil Walker's desperate leap.

"A.J. was very good again," Hurdle said of the veteran's encore to his seven shutout innings of three-hit ball on Saturday against the Cardinals. "One at-bat he'd probably like to do over is Pastornicky's. He had him 1-and-2 with three shots at him, and we thought he might run in something tight on him to see what he could do with it. Instead, he came with the change, and he thought it was a good pitch. I'll never second-guess a pitcher."

Burnett's telling moment came in the fifth inning. He'd already been saved by Garrett Jones' diving catch of Freddie Freeman's sinking liner to right when, under the mounting weight of pressure pitches, he faced Uggla at the crossroads, with men on second and third and two outs. Uggla got the bottom of Burnett's tank -- which included a called third strike.

"You're always one pitch away from getting out of jams. I'm always telling these guys to do that, so I figured I'd better do it myself," Burnett said. "You want to go a little deeper [than six innings], but overall, it was all right. But those walks will kill you."

The righty returned to the mound in the sixth to gut his way through one more inning, and retired after that with eight strikeouts, improving on his own team season high of seven in his debut. Burnett allowed six hits and three walks, along with the two runs.

The Braves broke through to end Burnett's scoreless season in the third, when Martin Prado's two-out single scored Pastornicky from third base.

The Bucs quickly had an answer, but missed an opportunity to get more than even. Jones singled to score Andrew McCutchen, who had led off the fourth with a single and stolen second, and worked his way to third on a wild pitch and Walker's grounder. Walks of Pedro Alvarez and Casey McGehee loaded the bases, still with only one away, for Barajas.

"I know when there are runners in scoring position, [Hanson] likes to go to off-speed pitches," said Barajas, still having a tough time letting go of the at-bat. "I was ready for it. I missed it again."

He paused, and slightly tilted his head to the left, toward Burnett's adjoining locker.

"The good thing is we're pitching well. I take pride in being able to separate the two," said Barajas, still looking to fill the other half of his glass. Comments