A.J. Burnett #34 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Cincinnati Reds during the second inning of their game on September 21, 2013 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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A.J. Burnett strong in Pirates' 4-2 win over Reds

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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Homer Bailey couldn't seem to keep his cleats clean Saturday night following a seven-hour deluge at PNC Park that left the pitching mound a bit of a clumpy mess.

No matter what the Cincinnati Reds right-hander tried, the mud just wouldn't come off. It turned out to be the least of his problems.

Bailey struggled with his command and his defense in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh that dropped the Reds a game behind the Pirates in the race for the NL's top wild-card spot. Riding a career-high, six-game winning streak, Bailey (11-11) gave up four runs with four walks and three strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings and was done in by a rare throwing error that allowed Pittsburgh to take the lead in the seventh.

"This loss is on me," Bailey said.

A.J. Burnett had a little something to do with it, too. The Pittsburgh ace struck out a season-high 12 in seven dominant innings as the Pirates bounced back from a late collapse on Friday to push back in front of Cincinnati in a hotly contested race for homefield in the wild card round.

"The story of the game is we didn't score enough runs," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "We just couldn't get much going against him. We got some runs early, then he settled down."

Burnett (9-11) became the first Pittsburgh right-hander to record 200 strikeouts in a single season when he fanned Joey Votto leading off the sixth. Jason Grilli worked the ninth for his 31st save, his first since going on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.

Russell Martin hit a two-run homer, and Jose Tabata added two hits for Pittsburgh.

Zack Cozart hit his 12th home run of the season for Cincinnati, and Ryan Ludwick added an RBI but Cincinnati couldn't move in front of the Pirates in the standings for the first time since June.

Ludwick's RBI single in the first and Cozart's deep home run to left leading off the second gave the Reds a 2-0 lead before Burnett found a groove.

"Go out, it's a big game, it's a big series, you want to attack," Burnett said. "We were able to do that and get through seven somehow. I felt like I got stronger as it went on."

Bailey wasn't quite as dazzling. Making his first start at PNC Park since throwing a no-hitter at the Pirates last September, Bailey was solid but not spectacular. An off night in the field didn't help.

Alvarez reached with two outs in the third when Votto mishandled a slow chopper to first. Martin followed by taking a fastball from Bailey and sending it into the bleachers in left field to tie it at 2.

Pittsburgh broke the tie in the sixth. Andrew McCutchen walked with one out and sprinted to third when Bailey's attempted pickoff throw slipped past Votto and rolled to the wall. Justin Morneau walked to put runners on the corners, and Marlon Byrd hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field to give the Pirates the lead.

"I had the throwing error at first base, I didn't execute very well, I made a couple of bad pitches," Bailey said. "(The offense) gave me a couple of runs to work with early and I didn't take advantage of it. I gave them all back and then some."

Reliever Zach Duke - who spent six years in Pittsburgh during the club's two-decade losing streak - came on after Byrd's sacrifice fly and immediately surrendered an RBI single to Alvarez that gave the Pirates a two-run cushion.

Burnett responded by breezing through the seventh in perhaps his final regular-season start at PNC Park as a member of the Pirates. His deal is up at the end of the season, and while he's embraced his role as the pitching staff's wise old man, he might be too expensive to retain after going 25-21 with a 3.45 ERA over two years.

Those matters can wait. Burnett let loose an emphatic fist pump when pinch-hitter Henry Rodriguez struck out to end the seventh. He walked off to a loud ovation after steadying a franchise still trying to figure out how to win at this time of year.

NOTES: Cincinnati CF Shin-Soo Choo sat out after injuring his right hand while sliding into first base on Friday. Baker said he wasn't sure when Choo will return. ... Cincinnati rookie OF Billy Hamilton will make his second start of the season on Sunday. The base stealing specialist went 3 for 4 with four stolen bases in his previous start against Houston on Wednesday. ... The series concludes on Sunday when Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke (10-6, 3.27 ERA) faces Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo (13-11, 3.56).

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Follow Will Graves at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/WILLGRAVESAP

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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