PITTSBURGH -- Nineteen months after arriving from The Bronx to rattle the Pirates' culture, A.J. Burnett validated general manager Neal Huntington's obsession to add a pitcher seemingly headed nowhere to a team that hadn't gone anywhere for two decades.
Burnett has spent his two Pittsburgh seasons offering quality from the mound. But he defined both himself and the Bucs' ethos with his Saturday night gem. He gave his best when his team needed it most.
"That was a big game -- from an organization standpoint, from a fan-base standpoint. The timing," manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday morning, recalling the Pirates' 4-2 triumph over Cincinnati. "The focus, the determination, the grit."
Answering the alarm of a potentially deflating 6-5 loss in 10 innings the previous night, Burnett throttled the Reds on four hits through seven innings that featured 12 strikeouts, including No. 200 of the season.
Burnett made 107 pitches, and induced swings-and-misses on nearly a quarter (24) of them.
"It very well could have been as good an effort as we've seen from him in the two years he's pitched here," Hurdle said. "He was brought here for those reasons."
"I just want to go out and win for these guys and for this city," said Burnett, this city's favorite adopted son of the moment, no question.
Going down the regular-season stretch and beyond, Hurdle does not hide his dependence on Burnett's leadership, moxie and pitching skills.
As the Bucs entered the final turn of the final lap, what were the manager's words to Burnett?
"I need you to get on a roll like a hog needs slop."
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.