The Pirates collected 12 hits, including five with runners in scoring position, to break free of an offensive slump. Meanwhile Francisco Liriano pitched seven shutout innings and recorded his fourth-straight victory in a 5-0 win over the Oakland Athletics.
That is what we call a double-barrel lead, since the Bucs were stellar on both sides Wednesday night for the first-ever franchise win over the A’s in 12 tries. The offense and defense arrived after a nearly-three-hour rain delay that pushed back the Pirates’ season debut on ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball. Liriano and the Bucs were worth the wait to go to 54-36 on the season.
“We’re in a good position right now to make the playoffs,” Liriano said. “You just want to continue to play like that in the 2nd half and hopefully we can make the postseason.”
“Move The Chains”
Let’s start with the offense, which produced a mere two runs in as many games to start the series. Pittsburgh leaped on A’s starter Tommy Milone in the third inning. The top of the Pirates order lit the fuse: Starling Marte double to left, Jose Tabata RBI double to left-center, Andrew McCutchen RBI single. Russell Martin reached on a force play, moved to second on Grant Green’s throwing error then scored on a Pedro Alvarez RBI single. The Bucs had outscored their previous two nights in one frame alone.
“One more hit. Move the chains again. You get a first down, you add one more,” Hurdle said. “The three[-run inning] has been elusive.”
It was so much fun the Pirates decided to do it again against Pat Neshek in the 4th. With one out, Tabata reached on a force play. McCutchen and Martin both hit singles, making the score 4-0 and chasing Neshek. Jerry Blevins entered and served up another RBI single to Alvarez, both to right field. It was a 5-0 Pittsburgh lead and almost made one forget about their previous doldrums with runners at second and third.
“I think we did a pretty good job of pressing them and attacking them,” Alvarez said, adding the Bucs waited for Oakland pitchers “to come to us and [we] put some good wood on some balls.”
Play it Again, Frank
All the support was simply for show, as Francisco Liriano needed very little help. In fact, the long innings made him hop on the exercise bike to stay loose after the rain.
The left-hander twirled seven scoreless with only four hits and one walk allowed. He retired 15 of his last 16 hitters for another quality start, pitching 6+ innings for his eighth straight outing. By generating 12 Athletics swings-and-misses, Liriano totaled six strikeouts and did not allow a runner past first base after the 3rd inning.
“He set the tone,” Hurdle said. “He dominated… command of everything tonight.”
Only leadoff hitter Coco Crisp was tough to tame with a game-high three hits. Otherwise, Liriano thrashed up the Oakland lineup to enter the All-Star Break with a 2.00 season ERA. He benefitted from at least two nice plays: McCutchen robbing Yoenis Cespedes of extra bases at the center field wall in the 4th and Clint Barmes ending Liriano’s night with a great throw from shallow left field to end the 7th.
“I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve been pitching and the way that we’ve all been playing,” Liriano said. “I’m not trying to do too much when I’ve got men on base, just being aggressive and under control.”
Justin Wilson and Jeanmar Gomez pitched a scoreless inning each to wrap up the win and the team’s 13th shutout, most in any season since 2005.
You’re Watching Perspectives
Despite a third straight series loss, the Pirates actually outscored Oakland 7-4 over the three-game set. Sometimes that’s the way the numbers fall for a team that had such good luck in the first half.
“The other team can outplay you on one pitch and win the ballgame,” Alvarez said, noting that one pitch to Brandon Moss that the lefty homered on Tuesday night “decided the game.”
After almost three hours of rain, the Pirates shined and continue to sit 1.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for first place and 7.5 games above the last team fighting for an NL playoff spot. And yes, soon the All-Star Break will come and go, then it won’t be so weird to use the term “playoff spot.”