PITTSBURGH -- An irresistible force met an immovable object Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park.
So an implosion of cosmic proportions seemed inevitable. Something had to give. It turned out to be A.J. Burnett.
In a pitchers' duel that maybe even exceeded expectations, Burnett pitched two-hit ball -- officially, most observers felt it was only one hit -- for seven innings, but it was not enough to best Felix Hernandez, who gave up one run on six hits in eight innings in a 2-1 victory for the Mariners.
"The game was as advertised -- two pitchers battling like kids in the backyard," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "[A.J.] was a grown man out there doing some good work."
A solo homer with one out in the seventh by Jesus Montero -- very briefly Burnett's batterymate with the 2011 Yankees -- snapped a 1-1 tie.
Burnett faced 27 men. That drive by Montero was the only ball hit out of the infield against him.
"It's the only pitch to a righty that came back over the plate all day," Burnett said. "You hate to look at one pitch, because then you start questioning yourself, and I'm not going to do that. I went out there with conviction."
"I was looking for a fastball. He pitched me really good the first at-bat [when I lined out]," said Montero. "Then in the second at-bat, he went ball, ball, ball [when I grounded out]. The third at-bat, I was looking for a fastball, and he left it in the middle and I hit it good."
Burnett left the game after that frame, unrewarded for one of his finest efforts, as he allowed two hits and two runs in the outing and fanned nine to improve his National League-leading total to 66 strikeouts.
"It was fun out there, going up against him," said Burnett, able to relish the competition despite the outcome. "You live for those kinds of days. You know it's going to be a close game, so I tried to throw zeroes, just go out and compete pitch to pitch."
The Bucs got the jump on Hernandez in trite but nevertheless exciting fashion: Starling Marte led off the first with a double and scored on Andrew McCutchen's single.
"The first inning, they got me pretty good and I just left a couple of pitches down the middle," Hernandez said. "I knew it was going to be hard, because Burnett was nasty. And after the first, I just had to get my command back and try and throw strikes, and that's what I did through the course of the game."
Hernandez may have also sensed something the Pirates had noticed: He did not have his best heat.
"He threw a lot more fastballs early, and then he probably realized his velocity wasn't there," Garrett Jones said. "So he kept mixing it up, and was effective in not giving us any pitches to hit."
"He never hit that other gear with the velocity," Hurdle said. "But the spin and the sequences, the breaking ball to right-handed hitters and the change to left-handers ... still filthy."
The Mariners had the tying run before they had a hit -- and both were soiled.
Burnett invited trouble in the fourth, starting it off with consecutive full-count walks of Michael Saunders and Jason Bay. After the runners advanced to second and third on Kendrys Morales' grounder for the second out, trouble appeared to decline and send its regrets on a 1-2 pitch to Dustin Ackley that could have been called an inning-ending strike. Instead, Burnett had another pitch to make -- and bounced it by catcher Michael McKenry for the game-tying wild pitch.
"I thought it was a close pitch," Burnett said of the 1-2 delivery, then broke into a wide grin. "Sometimes I think my stuff is so nasty, [the umpires] miss it, too. Can't get them all; [plate umpire Paul Schrieber] called a great game."
The first hit came the following inning, and if left alone, it also would have been swathed in controversy: With one out in the fifth, Endy Chavez sent a grounder to the right of second baseman Jordy Mercer. Mercer had to backhand the ball, but it wasn't quite up the middle. Mercer's throw skipped past Jones at first base -- yet it crossed the bag two steps before Chavez did.
Official scorer Tony Krizmanich's call stood: Infield single, and a throwing error that allowed Chavez to advance to second.
Krizmanich said he based his decision on the fact for Mercer to retire Chavez would have taken "more than ordinary effort."
By all rights, no one should have won, or lost, this game. According to the tale of the tape, it should have been the ultimate standoff.
Hernandez came in having allowed four earned runs in his last five Interleague road starts, with 47 strikeouts versus seven walks in that stretch.
Burnett was a perfect 4-0 in his four Interleague starts of 2012, an MLB-best record he shared with Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander, while posting a 2.08 ERA.
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.