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PHI@PIT: Locke allows three hits over eight innings

PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Locke acknowledged that his start Sunday did not feel like a start in the Majors. The emotions were different for the 26-year-old lefty.

Locke had grown used to sharing and learning with A.J. Burnett when the veteran took Locke under his wing during his two seasons in Pittsburgh. The two shared something else Sunday -- the pitcher's mound at PNC Park.

In this meeting, the mentee got the best of the mentor as Locke's Pirates swept Burnett's Phillies with a 6-2 win. It was the Pirates' first sweep of the 2014 season, making them the last team in the Majors to accomplish the feat, and the Bucs finished their 10-game homestand with an 8-2 record.

After a pregame hug and some words of encouragement while warming up in the bullpen, Locke and Burnett had jobs to do. And though the two of them pitched well, Locke had the better afternoon and got the win.

"We spoke really briefly before we got in the bullpen and told each other to have fun today and go get 'em, pound down," Locke said. "He did a great job, I threw the ball well and I guess that's all you can really ask for."

Locke pitched eight impressive innings, allowing two runs, only one of which was earned, on 100 pitches. Fifteen of Locke's outs came on the ground, and he had just one walk. His effectiveness allowed him to pitch eight innings for his second straight start and third time this year.

Clint Hurdle said the key to the ground balls was that Locke threw his fastball and changeup on a downhill angle, and the Pirates manager noted that Locke threw his curveball just four times Sunday.

"When you got something working, there's no real reason to change it," said Locke, who has a 2.23 ERA in six starts since joining the Pirates rotation in June. "You don't want to over-think and say, 'Maybe I should throw more curveballs today.' … You start doing things like that, people will recognize what you're doing to them."

The Phillies had three hits against Locke, but the one that hurt was Marlon Byrd's second home run in as many days, which came in the seventh. But Locke retired the last five batters he saw after that, and he ended his day with four strikeouts. The other run he allowed came in the first inning after third baseman Pedro Alvarez's 17th throwing error of the season.

Locke's friend and counterpart got a warm reception before he threw a pitch, as the Pirates before the game on the scoreboard played a video tribute to Burnett, who tipped his cap to a standing ovation from the crowd of 33,408.

"It made me feel at home," Burnett said. "It caught me off guard. I don't know what to expect. It was a warm reception. Very classy."

Pirates fans had more to cheer about after Burnett's former batterymate, Russell Martin, doubled in the first off the right-field wall, scoring Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. All three of the Bucs' hits in the inning came after Burnett struck out his first two batters.

Burnett settled in and allowed just one more run, when Josh Harrison tripled and scored in the third. The right-hander totaled seven strikeouts and, just like Locke, threw exactly 100 pitches.

"It was a good game all around," Burnett said. "A couple pitches here or there. That ball to Cutch. Cutch is Cutch. The ball caught a little bit more of the plate to Russell. He put a good swing on it. The triple by [Harrison]. You take those two away, and we've got a pretty good ballgame."

The Pirates ensured the sweep in the eighth inning with three runs off the Phillies bullpen. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer all had RBIs in the frame. McCutchen drove his run in on a triple, and he ended the series with seven hits and five RBIs, while the Phillies, as a team, ended the series with 11 hits and five RBIs.

The Phillies were the last of five straight opponents to face the Pirates while in last place for at least one game of the series. The Pirates went 12-4 in that stretch and in the process gained 4 1/2 games on the slumping first-place Brewers.

"It's always fun for everybody when we're playing the brand of baseball we expect to play," Hurdle said. "Our challenge is to play our best baseball regardless of our competition. ... It has been a good run of our team playing good baseball in all facets."

But on Monday the Pirates start a series with the Cardinals, whom they jumped for second place in the National League Central with their latest victory. It will be the first time they have played a team with a winning record since June 15 in Miami.

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