The story of the Pirates’ win Monday night may really just come down to the opinion of who you ask; some may say Francisco Liriano’s dominant seven innings were the key while others may dissent in favor of the four-run first inning and five-run seventh inning.
But regardless of whom you ask, one thing remains clear when it comes to what happened in front of 32,084 fans at PNC Park—the Pirates (62-42) made a statement Monday in their 9-2 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals (62-41) in the opener of a five-game set.
The Pirate offense began with a bang in the first, as it took Westbrook until his fifth batter faced to record an out. Jose Tabata walked, Neil Walker was hit by a pitch, and McCutchen singled to center to score Tabata for an early 1-0 Pirate lead.
Pedro Alvarez followed McCutchen’s single by dropping the first pitch he saw from Westbrook over the Clemente Wall for a three-run home run—his 27th of the season—and gave the Pirates all the runs they would need to support Liriano’s start.
“It’s a great feeling, we scored four in the first inning and it was early in the game so I can make sure that I take one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time and not try and do too much,” Liriano said.
A dominant outing by Liriano held the Cardinals to just one run in his seven innings, and Liriano allowed only four hits and two walks amongst eight strikeouts. Liriano (11-4) retired the first 10 batters he faced, and kept St. Louis off the board until the sixth inning.
“He continues to pitch well, he continues to be very aggressive, a lot of confidence on the mound,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Good tempo, good rhythm, good command against a very good lineup.”
Liriano cruised through his first three and one-third innings, but ran into a spot of trouble when Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday managed to shoot balls past diving Pirates to put men on first and second with one away. Liriano promptly answered by striking Allen Craig and Yadier Molina out swinging.
“It’s a point where you need to point a foot down to not let them back in the game,” Hurdle said. “Frank just gets back on the mound and makes pitches, and gets out two very dangerous hitters.”
The next inning went off without a hitch for Liriano, but he again ran into trouble in the sixth.
Tony Cruz pinch hit for Cardinal starter Jake Westbrook, and tripled to right-center field as the ball missed the glove of a sliding Andrew McCutchen on the warning track. Matt Carpenter followed with a flare to left-center to score Cruz.
But after the RBI single, Liriano punched out Beltran and induced a double-play ball of the bat of Matt Holliday that went around the horn to end any other chances for the Cards to work into the Pirates’ 4-1 lead at the time.
Liriano needed to answer the bell one final time, as he issued a pair of two-out walks in the seventh to David Freese and Robinson. After a mound visit from Ray Searage, Pete Kozma flew out to center.
“Frankie can answer, he’s been a part of big match-ups before,” Hurdle said. “He’s got that pitch sequence that, as I think he’s spoken to, one of the biggest developments for him this year is pitching more effectively and more consistently with runners on base and he showed that ability again this evening in the fourth.”
Once Liriano finished, the Pirates offense started up again. Walker walked as the lead-off man, McCutchen singled, and Fernando Salas issued a free pass to Martin with one out that loaded the bases.
Gaby Sanchez flew out to right to score Walker from third on a sacrifice, Alex Presley drove McCutchen home with a single through the first-base side, and Clint Barmes delivered the inning’s big blow with his second double of the night that landed in the Notch to score two more runs. Starling Marte pinch-hit for Liriano and drove Barmes in with a basehit over second base to conclude the Pirate scoring and entrench the Pirates with a 9-1 lead after seven as Hurdle handed the ball to the bullpen.
“Two big innings tonight, stringing good at-bats together, doing some things with two outs,” Hurdle said. “We beat a good pitcher, Jake Westbrook is a very good pitcher, a very professional pitcher.”
The Cards responded with a run in the ninth against rookie reliever Vic Black, but he fanned Matt Adams with the bases loaded, and induced to center off the bat of Daniel Descalso to limit the damage to a single run and secure a 9-2 victory in the Bucs’ first home game in over two weeks.
“We’re back at home, that’s always a good thing. It’s like a breath of fresh air just being back at home, playing in front of your own fans,” McCutchen said. “I feel like I’ve been on the road for a month almost.”
And in tonight’s game, the Pirates gave the fans and the clubhouse something positive to take home as they cut St. Louis’ division lead down to half a game.
“It was a good night for us all across the board, with the bat, with the gloves, on the bases, and obviously off the mound,” Hurdle said. “It was a good night for the Bucs.”