PITTSBURGH -- It's no easy task, being a starting rotation's stopper. And as San Diego proved on Saturday, every ace is beatable, even one who has been as spectacular as A.J. Burnett this season.For the third straight outing, Burnett toed the slab with one mission: prevent the current two-game losing streak from reaching three. He had been successful in the first two tries, but Burnett's offense didn't back him up on Saturday, as the Pirates dropped the game, 5-0, in front of the third-largest crowd in PNC Park history (which may have been partially due to a postgame Styx concert). The Bucs' bats managed just two hits against San Diego starter Jason Marquis, who dazzled in taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He allowed just the two hits and a walk in notching the complete-game shutout. It was his eighth career complete game and fifth career shutout. "He can be very efficient with the late life. You've got to get under that ball, or stay inside of it," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who managed Marquis briefly three years ago in Colorado. "I've seen that, and it can be challenging, because you keep wanting to hit, but you don't hit anything hard. And you've really got to commit to getting that ball up, and staying inside of it, and getting underneath it. Easier said than done, though. "It's the late life, it's the late movement, staying off the barrel, staying down. A lot of ground balls from our side, and just not many balls squared up at all." An infield hit by Travis Snider in the seventh inning denied San Diego its first no-no in franchise history. Second baseman Alexi Amarista laid out for it, but couldn't quite make the play after the ball hit Marquis' glove, as well as the mound. In the eighth, Pedro Alvarez singled to right field, giving Pittsburgh its second hit off Marquis (6-6). Alvarez also walked in the game. "I knew it hit the mound, but that's when I put my head down and started running. Fortunately, I was able to get to the base before the ball," Snider said, describing his hit. "He gets ahead, and then he executes his pitches, stays down in the zone, gets guys to expand, and you saw a lot of weak ground balls. "He does a good job of really nibbling at the corners and staying down and minimizing mistakes up in the zone." Snider left the game with tightness in his right hamstring, but he didn't seem very concerned about it after the game. As for Burnett (14-4), he lasted 5 2/3 innings, allowing five runs -- four earned -- while striking out 10 and walking two. He also hit a batter, and served up two home runs. Burnett's ERA rose from 3.19 to 3.32 in the loss, which snapped a four-start winning streak. "I missed some spots on my sinker, and it hurt me," Burnett said. "I had a good hook tonight. That was probably all I had. As far being able to pitch in consistently, I was off. I was missing over the middle, and they drove some balls." One night after going deep from both sides of the plate, Chase Headley hit a left-handed solo shot in the first. In the sixth, Will Venable knocked one out to right-center. "You've got to keep the ball in the park, man," Burnett said. "You need to give the team a chance. [I] gave up a five-spot -- it doesn't really help, when the guy's throwing the way he's throwing. "I missed some spots, and they capitalized on them." Headley also drove in Everth Cabrera with a groundout in the third, shortly after Cabrera had tripled to the left-center notch. Burnett's unearned run came in the fourth, when Venable scored after reaching on an error by Garrett Jones. He crossed the plate on a single by Cameron Maybin. San Diego scored its final runs in the sixth, which saw Burnett issue a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded. That led Hurdle to replace him with Jared Hughes, who promptly induced a flyout to end the inning.
Hughes allowed one hit over 2 1/3 innings, and was followed by Jason Grilli, who notched a strikeout in a perfect frame. None of the Pirates hurlers, though, were as impressive as Marquis."It's always difficult, it's always difficult," Marquis said. "It's never easy, maybe in Little League, that was about it. It's a battle every time I step on the mound, I'm just trying to execute as many pitches as possible. This team is real aggressive, and if you make those pitches early you are able to get quick outs." The loss is Pittsburgh's third in a row and fourth in its past five games. San Diego has won 11 straight at PNC Park, and 15 of the past 17 against the Pirates. "We've pushed the last three days, and haven't gotten the result we wanted," Hurdle said, "but there's been no fall-off in preparation or intensity or dugout focus."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.