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PITTSBURGH (AP)—With a left-hander on the mound, the Kansas City Royals didn’t want to throw Andrew McCutchen a strike.
“We didn’t care if we walked him,” manager Ned Yost said.
Sound strategy, poor execution.
McCutchen homered and drove in three runs, A.J. Burnett won his fifth consecutive start and the Pittsburgh Pirates finished their first sweep of an AL team in more than a decade by beating the Royals 3-2 Sunday.
And the win, combined with Sunday night’s loss by the Cincinnati Reds, left the Pirates tied for first place in the Central Division.
Burnett had a no-hitter through 5 1-3 innings until Gordon singled with one out in the sixth.
McCutchen hit an RBI double in the first inning and hit a two-run homer in the third. That gave Burnett (6-2) and three relievers enough support for the Pirates to win their fourth in a row despite having only three hits from all their other players.
“The fact that McCutchen was the one who hurt us, that’s the fact I’m very concerned about,” Kansas City catcher Brayan Pena said.
McCutchen has feasted on left-handers, improving his average to .463 against them after two hits in his first two at bats against Bruce Chen.
This was the 50th interleague series the Pirates had played since taking three in a row from the Cleveland Indians on June 15-17, 2001.
The Pirates have won four straight and are 12-3 since May 25, the best record in the major leagues in that span. Pittsburgh, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1992, also moved five games over .500 at 32-27.
“This weekend was outstanding,” Burnett said. “We are playing good ball now and we are hitting on a couple of cylinders and it’s fun to watch.”
McCutchen entered the game with 15 hits in his past 27 at-bats against left-handers. Despite going hitless over the first two games of the series, he made it 17 for 29 over the course of the first three innings.
“I hadn’t been feeling that great the past few days, but after a few times out in the cage, I was able to put a show forth today,” McCutchen said.
His first-inning double to right drove in Alex Presley, who led off the inning with a single. With Neil Walker on and two outs in the third, McCutchen lifted a 1-2 pitch from Bruce Chen into the left-field bleachers for his 11th of the season.
“He’s leading everybody hitting left-handers,” Yost said. “We really tried, even in the first inning, we didn’t want to throw him a strike.”
On Saturday night the Pirates made the most of a few lucky bounces and well-placed grounders Neil Walker drove in the go-ahead run with a groundout during a wacky fourth inning and Pittsburgh rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
“It wasn’t loud but balls were finding grass and spots in the infield,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s a tough inning if you’re playing defense because no balls are being barreled up.”
Pittsburgh’s James McDonald lasted just four innings, matching his shortest start of the season. He gave up three runs and five hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
“I just didn’t have any command of my pitches and it’s the type of game I want to throw away and start looking to bounce back for the next one,” McDonald said. “I put us in a hole but our bullpen did a great job of shutting them down and we found a way to win.”
Attendance over the weekend was 36,069 on Friday, 39,312 on Saturday, and 25,752 on Sunday. As part of a Negro Leagues tribute on Saturday night, the Royals wore replica Kansas City Monarchs uniforms and the Pirates wore Homestead Grays throwbacks. Fans who attended were also treated to a free Boyz II Men concert.
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