Francisco Liriano made it seem like, for the first time since 1965, the Chicago Cubs would go without a hit. But after six innings of no-hit baseball, Liriano had thrown 99 pitches and a foregone conclusion it was that he would be unable to finish the game.
In the top of the seventh, Hurdle sent Liriano back to the mound after Liriano said he was “good to go”. Eight pitches and three batters later, Liriano allowed a single, home run, and another single to end Liriano’s magical day.
“We’ve asked him a dozen times this year – how do you feel? Are you good to go or not? He’s always honest. Without blinking an eye, he said he could still pitch and it was the first time all year that he wasn’t able to convert on a good to go,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He wasn’t tired or anything. He just wasn’t able to make pitches.”
Liriano’s final line stood at six-plus innings with two runs allowed on three hits and four walks. Liriano struck out four Chicago hitters, which all came in the first three innings.
Even if Liriano was able to get through the seventh, Hurdle admitted the Pirates likely would have ended his day regardless of if he carried a no-hitter or not.
“It would have been difficult. Francisco’s a pro and he realizes it wouldn’t benefit anyone for him to throw 130 pitches on Sept. 15,” Hurdle said. “You never know how things can play out but I have a hard time envisioning him having finished the game.”
Behind the plate, Tony Sanchez once again was Liriano’s battery mate and gave him support in the first inning with a solo home run to right-center field. The homer was his second of the season, and first career at PNC Park.
“His stuff was really good and I thought he had a shot at a no-hitter,” Sanchez said. “His slider was really moving all over the place.”
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first inning Sunday, when Jose Tabata led off the game with a triple to center field and then scored on a wild pitch by Chicago starter Travis Wood. Pittsburgh put men on second and third with one out following a book-rule double by Jordy Mercer and a bloop single from Andrew McCutchen, but Gaby Sanchez and Pedro Alvarez both flew out to end the threat and let Wood off the hook.
Wood settled down after the first, and the home run allowed to Sanchez in the fourth was one of few mistakes the left-hander made all day. Wood last six innings and allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four batters.
Following the break-up of Liriano’s no-hitter, the Pirates bullpen pitched three hitless innings. Bryan Morris finished the seventh cleanly, Kyle Farnsworth (1-0) earned his first win as a Pirate, and Mark Melancon collected save no. 16.
Justin Morneau collected his first RBI in a Pirates uniform in the bottom of the eighth, with what proved to be the game-winning hit. Morneau, pinch-hitting for Gaby Sanchez, dropped a ball into left field on the first pitch he saw from Pedro Strop (2-2) and McCutchen scored the go-ahead from second after Strop hit him with a pitch.
“It was perfect timing, that’s for sure. I wish it would have happened a week-and-a-half ago but I’m glad it happened when it did,” Morneau said. “It’s funny how things turn out in this game. You hit some balls hard and have nothing to show for it then I get a broken-bat hit that ends up being the game-winner.”
Morneau’s go ahead basehit follows a night when Marlon Byrd put the Pirates ahead of the Cubs with a solo home run in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. The tangible dividends have Pittsburgh (87-62) in contention for the NL Central title.
“They’ve impacted the club, they’ve impacted the lineup,” Hurdle said. “We had a good team at the point the deal were made and they’ve made a good team stronger.”