PHILADELPHIA -- A.J. Burnett signed with the Phillies with expectations of playing for a contender. But even with the ink still wet on his one year, $16 million contract, he began fielding questions about trade rumors with the Phillies buried deep in the basement of the National League East by the All-Star break.
Perhaps Wednesday night's 3-1 loss to the Giants at Citizens Bank Park was the last time he'll have to answer those types of questions in a Phillies uniform. Jonathan Papelbon allowed three runs in the ninth inning to break up a scoreless game and put San Francisco in position for a four-game sweep.
With rumors swirling about where Burnett will be Aug. 1, the 37-year-old proved that he could be a valuable addition to a team hopeful of making an October run. Burnett had no problems contending with a 59-minute weather delay, a wet mound and a Giants offense that had averaged 6.67 runs over its last six games, as he went eight scoreless innings in a showcase performance.
Burnett allowed four hits and four walks and struck out six while throwing 131 pitches, the most he's thrown this season.
"It was one of those 'as long as you let me' [games]," Burnett said. "Do the best I can, as long as I can."
The delay wasn't a factor.
"It was fine. Play a little catch down in the tunnel. I went out and did my thing," Burnett said.
Burnett's wife is a Maryland native and they live there during the offseason. With the Orioles potentially in the market for a proven arm as they head down the stretch, Baltimore has seemed like a plausible destination for Burnett to land. After spending two seasons as a Pirate -- during which he helped the franchise break a 21-year playoff drought -- a storybook return to Pittsburgh seems like another good fit.
But after he silenced the Giants on Wednesday, Burnett, who has a limited no-trade clause, was asked whether he thought this might be the last time he dons the red pinstripes.
"I don't know."
Not even a hunch? A gut feeling? Any inclination at all as to whether he is bound for a team with a sunnier outlook?
"No. All that's out of my control."
Even on a Phillies team that is 15 games under .500, Burnett has done well to remain positive and take advantage of what is in his control.
Wednesday night was a perfect example. After getting roughed up for six runs in five innings his last time out against the Braves, Burnett bounced back with one of his best starts of 2014.
"You have to come in here with a clear mind no matter what happens," Burnett said. "I got beat up my last start, but come out the next time, it's almost like it didn't happen, even though it did. So you move on. Nights like tonight, you move on, get a 'W' tomorrow."
For as dazzling as Burnett was, his counterpart, Madison Bumgarner, kept pace. The southpaw threw eight scoreless innings as well and limited the Phillies to five hits and an 0-for-4 mark with runners in scoring position.
Papelbon got the loss a day after blowing his third save of the season. He hit Michael Morse to lead off the ninth and intentionally walked Brandon Crawford -- a .237 hitter -- three batters later after pinch-runner Gregor Blanco advanced to second on a steal.
Then, with Hector Sanchez pinch-hitting for Bumgarner, Papelbon worked a 2-2 count. After his next pitch, a splitter, Papelbon took a step off the mound, thinking he had gotten the strikeout. But the home-plate umpire didn't grant him the call.
"We thought that was a good pitch," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We all saw it. ... It was a solid pitch."
Papelbon walked Sanchez on the next pitch, and Hunter Pence followed with a bases-clearing double to right field.
The Phillies tacked on a run in the ninth to narrowly avoid being shut out for the ninth time at home this season. Carlos Ruiz got to third base twice Wednesday night with less than two outs, but Philly wasn't able to score him in either instance.
"It's the difference between wins and losses. Especially these last three," Sandberg said. "The goal of the offense is to get a guy to third base, less than two outs, get him in. Cash in each of those times. They came up big tonight, the fact that we weren't able to do that."
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.