Francisco Liriano

Pirates Open Five-Game Set with All-Around Dominance

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.

Liriano was dominant Monday night, pitching seven innings and allowing a run on four hits. Photo Credit: David Hague

Liriano was dominant Monday night, pitching seven innings and allowing a run on four hits.  Photo Credit: David Hague

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.”

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Nate Barnes

Nate covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects, and is an English Writing major at the University of Pittsburgh. Nate has covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report, and covered Pitt Men's Basketball, Duquesne Men's Basketball, and Pitt Baseball beats prior to this summer. You can find Nate on Twitter @NateBarnes_ where he'll keep you updated on each and every time Clint Barmes breaks up a no-hit bid with one-out in the third inning of ballgames.

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  • Bryan Graham

    It appeared as if the parallel universe Pirates showed up offensively, hopefully they stick around for a little while.

    • Stephen Brooks

      Sure hope so. Even after scoring 9 tonight, these Bucs are still 26 runs behind last year’s team after 104 games. Hard to believe after the upgrades at LF, C, SS and the right-handed 1B platoon. Jones, Walker and Cutch all ht over .300 with RISP. Unlike this year.

  • CalipariFan506

    Who comes up to replace Black tomorrow? Ryan Reid gave up 3 runs in his last appearance on Saturday. Hughes and Welker threw tonight. Either way you can’t have a guy coming off a 30 pitch outing on the 25 man for a doubleheader.

    And I still think Pimentel gets a start tomorrow. Pirates are delaying the announcement so St Louis has to scramble to put together a scouting report.

    • moose7195

      I think MLB added a rule that lets you have 26 men on the roster if there is a double-header, so they just have to call someone up

      • James Santelli

        Moose is correct. The consensus seems to be that it will be one of Kris Johnson, Stolmy Pimentel or Brandon Cumpton to come up and start tomorrow.

        • Alex Henry

          Kris Johnson pitched July 2th so i would be shocked if it was him on short rest i expect Cumpton but i want and hope Pimentel gets the start

          • Alex Henry

            july 27th*

        • chenzt

          I thought the 26th man rule only applied to day-night double header?

  • IC Bob

    The more I see Liriano the more I am convinced he is one of the best two or three pitchers going right now. His arm action is incredible. No one picks up the slicer making it impossible to hit. Sure glad we have him and think he can be a difference maker come the playoff season.

    • smurph

      You beat me to it, IC. Right now Liriano is the Pirates ace and one of the best SPs in the majors. That slider is downright nasty. He has the same arm motion and release point as the fastball, and it breaks at the last possible second. The main thing is he knows exactly where to place both the slider and the 2-seamer. Great control. How many Cards swung at the slider several inches below the strike zone?

  • CalipariFan506

    I know the Pirates can add a 26th man. That will most likely be Cumpton. What I’m advocating is optioning Black for Ryan Reid. The 30 pitches he threw yesterday make him a question mark today. I’d prefer to have a fresh option to turn to.

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