PITTSBURGH - A.J. Burnett steadied the Pittsburgh Pirates after their most difficult loss of the season and also made some history Saturday night.
Burnett pitched seven strong innings as the Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 at PNC Park for just their second win in the last six games.
The Pirates' victory came a night after they blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth and lost 6-5 to the Reds in 10 innings in the opener of a three-game series between National League Central contenders.
Burnett helped the Pirates keep pace in the NL Central after beginning the day tied with the Reds and two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pittsburgh (89-66) also took a one-game lead over Cincinnati (88-67) for the first wild card. The Reds entered the day five games ahead of the Washington Nationals (83-71), who hosted the Miami Marlins, for the second wild card.
Burnett continued his stellar pitching at home in the final regular-season start at PNC Park this year as he allowed two runs and four hits with 12 strikeouts and three walks. Though Burnett was only 5-4 at home, he had a fine 2.37 ERA and did not allow more than three earned runs in any of 14 starts.
Burnett became the first right-handed pitcher in Pirates' history and third overall to have 200 strikeouts. Oliver Perez was the last to reach that plateau with 2004 while Bob Veale did so four times - from 1964-66 and in 1969.
The last time Burnett had 12 strikeouts in a game was Aug. 27, 2009 while pitching for the New York Yankees against Toronto.
Jason Grilli notched his 31 save in 32 opportunities but first since July 21 by pitching a scoreless ninth inning, two days before he went on the disabled list with a strained right forearm. Grilli was out until Sept. 3 and had served as a set-up reliever while working his way back into shape.
However, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided to go with Grilli on Saturday night after Melancon blew his second save opportunity in three days in Friday night's loss.
Homer Bailey (11-11) had his nine-start streak without a loss snapped as he allowed four runs - two earned - and three hits in 5 2/3 innings while walking four and striking out three. His last loss was on July 26.
The Pirates scored twice in the sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie and move in front for good.
Andrew McCutchen drew a one-out walk and advanced to third when Bailey made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt. Justin Morneau also worked a walk and Marlon Byrd hit a sacrifice fly to score McCutchen with the go-ahead run.
Zach Duke relieved and gave up an RBI single to Pedro Alvarez that made it 4-2.
Jose Tabata had two hits for the Pirates and Ryan Ludwick had two hits for the Reds.
Cincinnati jumped on Burnett for single runs in the first and second innings. Ryan Ludwick hit an RBI single in the first and Zack Cozart led off the second by hitting his 12th home run of the season into the left-field bleachers.
Pittsburgh's Russell Martin tied it at 2-2 in the bottom of the second when he ripped a two-run homer to left field, his 15th, off Bailey with two outs. The inning was prolonged when first baseman Joey Votto mishandled Pedro Alvarez's ground ball just before Martin connected.
NOTES: Cincinnati CF Shin-Soo Choo will miss at least two games after suffering a jammed left thumb Friday night when he dove headfirst into first base in an unsuccessful attempt to beat out an infield single. ... Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said before the game that Grilli will begin being used in closing situations again. Grilli was 30-for-31 in save opportunities before suffering a strained right forearm and spending July 23-Sept. 3 on the disabled list. RHP Mark Melancon had been handling the closing duties but has blown his last two save opportunities after going 16-for-18. ... Reds RHP Bronson Arroyo (13-11, 3.56) will start against Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (10-6, 3.27) on Sunday in the finale of the three-game series.