PITTSBURGH -- The overdue recipient of some runs at PNC Park, A.J. Burnett was not the picture of joy Friday night when he was called back from the on-deck circle for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth.
He looked displeased to walk out on the 5-3 lead he held over the Reds. It could have been intuition, because minutes later Burnett helplessly watched from the bench as Tony Watson surrendered a game-tying two-run home run to Brandon Phillips, his second homer of the game.
Watson, the left-handed reliever, thus went considerably out of his way to help prove that the Bucs have moxie. Because clubs thus caught after having held a 5-1 lead since the second inning rarely recover. Andrew McCutchen made sure this would be one of the rarities, leading off the bottom of the seventh with a solo shot off reliever J.J. Hoover to regain a lead that relievers Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli preserved for a 6-5 victory in front of 24,366.
"It shows we aren't going to wait around, that we're a team that's going to fight," said McCutchen, who returned to the dugout after displaying rare emotion -- certainly for early April. "Just because they tied the game up after we had a four-run lead, that doesn't mean we're going to give up."
"It's not like he gave up the home run to a slouch," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "This guy is one of the best players in the league, and we had chances to come back late, so it's a little deflating, but you can't get deflated in the seventh. You've got to come back in the eighth and ninth, and we've got to put that behind us. We came back once, and we were coming back again, and we had action. We didn't stop. We were one hit away from tying that game up."
The end-game found Phillips again on the spot. But Grilli fanned him on a full-count breaking pitch with two men on base.
McCutchen's blow got Burnett out of the clubhouse and back into the dugout.
"I ran out of here to give Cutch some love after that home run. I never leave the clubhouse [after coming out of a game], but I had to," said Burnett, who did not mind at all that Watson ended up with the win.
"We got the 'W' tonight," Burnett said. "The first game of a series is huge, so that's the most important thing."
Nearly lost in the dogged victory over the defending NL Central champs was Starling Marte's sixth consecutive two-hit game. For good measure, the left fielder also made a headlong diving catch of Joey Votto's liner just prior to Phillips' second homer.
But it wasn't just Marte, for a change. The top four in the Bucs' lineup all checked in with two hits.
"We're capable of doing it," said McCutchen, mindful that the Pirates had brought a team average of .153 into their 10th game -- even including Marte's .333. "We look forward to keep hitting and keep getting on base."
The Pirates homering -- it was McCutchen's second and the team's third in 10 games -- was nearly as extraordinary as them scoring with Burnett on the PNC Park mound.
In the first inning, they got him his first run in 37 innings at their home field, and the next inning got him four more.
Burnett's first lead was immediately erased by Phillips' first homer, leading off the second, and he let the Reds take small bites out of that second lead.
Devin Mesoraco's RBI grounder in the fourth plated Jay Bruce, and Mesoraco's run-scoring double in the sixth made it 5-3.
"Games are nine innings for a reason," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You give up things sometimes, and fight to get something back. It's kinda what we expect when these two teams meet. A battle."
Burnett remained on a strikeout binge in his six innings, adding eight for a season total of 27 in 17 innings. They also increased his career total to 1,998. He allowed six hits and three runs, plus three walks that helped push his pitch total to 106 and him out of the game.
The four-run second against Reds starter Mike Leake was built on five hits, easily the season's biggest splurge by the Bucs, who had averaged 3.7 hits through their first seven games. The payoff knocks were singles by Neil Walker and McCutchen, each driving in two runs.
Walker's safety was as near to predictable as baseball can get: It came with the bases loaded, a situation the Pittsburgh Kid owns. After that hit, he has a career average of .500 with the bases loaded, with 42 RBIs in 32 at-bats.
"I like Neil hitting with runners in scoring position, always have," Hurdle said. "He usually does a good job finding outfield grass with runners in scoring position."
Marte did not score it but again was responsible for the Bucs putting a first-inning run on the board for the fourth time in five games. He led off with a hit for the sixth consecutive game and, after moving to second on a walk to Walker and McCutchen's fly to right, was erased at home on Garrett Jones' infield grounder.
Yet the situation Marte had created was converted on Russell Martin's single to score Walker for a 1-0 lead.
And, just like that, Burnett's team backed him with a run at home for the first time since Aug. 27, six starts ago.
As the rest of the night evolved, however, he still does not have a win.
"I hate that we couldn't get him the win," McCutchen said. "But he'll have another chance, and we'll have another chance to get it for him."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.