PHILADELPHIA -- With a huge series on the horizon in St. Louis, the Pirates needed to stay focused on the job at hand, and on a sun-drenched afternoon Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, they did just that behind another stellar outing from A.J. Burnett.
"The numbers might [exceed expectations]," manager Clint Hurdle said. "But as far as coming in and competing, I don't have expectations. I was a young player, a bunch of expectations were put on me. I have experience with that. I tell them what I expect from them as far as preparation and focus and those things. Once they compete, A.J. has pitched well. The fact that he has run off eight in a row, that's significant, but there is a lot more that goes with that."
The Pirates gave Burnett an early cushion with five first-inning runs as the veteran right-handed starter won his eighth consecutive start, this one a 5-4 victory over the Phillies. The Bucs hit back-to-back-home runs for the third time this season in the first inning, and Burnett, with the exception of a two-run second, dominated the Phillies from that point.
The win, which was the 15th in June and second consecutive month the Pirates have reached that number -- a feat they had not accomplished since 1997 -- sets the stage for a three-game series at St. Louis in which the Pirates have an opportunity to put room between them and the third-place Cardinals in the National League Central race.
"It was a big win for us," said Burnett, who is riding the second-longest winning streak by an NL pitcher this season at eight, one behind the Mets' R.A. Dickey. "Anytime your offense comes out and gives you a lead like that, you relax and attack. I went after these guys. They're a good lineup and I've battled them for years. It's always fun to come in here and battle these guys."
Drew Sutton, who made his Bucs debut on Tuesday, opened the game with a single that deflected off Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick to shortstop Jimmy Rollins. After a walk to Neil Walker and a flyout that moved Sutton to third, Garrett Jones singled to center for a 1-0 lead.
Casey McGehee followed with a three-run blast into the left-field stands for a 4-0 lead. Pedro Alvarez followed with his 14th home run as the Pirates scored five runs in the first inning on the road for the first time since May 27, 2007, at Cincinnati.
"It was big, especially if I remember the first three games, coming out and them getting the lead each time," said McGehee, who homered in back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 11-12, 2010, for Milwaukee. "It was nice to get out to a lead and give A.J. some breathing room. It would have been nice to stretch it out a little bit, but the pitching staff has been strong all year."
Given a five-run lead, Burnett went after a lineup that was without Chase Utley, who sat after starting two consecutive games, including a Minor League rehab game. Including a two-run homer in the second by Erik Kratz, Burnett allowed six hits over 6 2/3 innings, and at one point, he recorded nine consecutive outs until a pair of singles by Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence in the sixth, followed by an RBI fielder's choice by Placido Polanco, made it a 5-3 game.
In the eighth, the Pirates went to reliever Jason Grilli. Pence led off the inning with his 14th home run of the year to cut the Bucs' lead to 5-4.
"We went to [Juan] Cruz [in the seventh], and he put some on and then worked out of it," Hurdle said. "There were a bunch of tough outs we had to get late including Grilli's and [closer Joel] Hanrahan's, but we showed a lot of grit."
Grilli hit Polanco, but struck out Ty Wigginton to slow the Phils' momentum. Luck was against the reliever as Mike Fontenot hit one back up the middle off Grilli's glove for an infield single that put runners on first and second, with pinch-hitters Jim Thome and Carlos Ruiz looming. Grilli struck out Thome, who hit a long foul on the first pitch, and then coaxed a popup by Ruiz that saw McGehee land in the first-base seats after making the catch in foul territory.
"That was just a lack of athleticism, not being able to stop," McGehee said. "[Derek] Jeter's [catch] was athletic. Mine was just not having any brakes."
Hanrahan notched his 20th save, tossing a scoreless ninth despite a leadoff single by Rollins.
Mike Radano is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.