Fourth Inning the Key to Liriano’s Outing, Pirates’ Wild Card Victory

Francisco Liriano got out of a huge jam in the fourth inning tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Francisco Liriano got out of a huge jam in the fourth inning tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Clint Hurdle has mentioned in the past that there are certain “three-out sequences” that alone can determine the course a game takes. If there was one such sequence that played heavily into the Pirates’ 6-2 victory in Tuesday night’s National League Wild Card game, it came in the fourth inning.

The Pirates scored two runs that inning, but the impact of the inning came when no Pirate had a bat in his hand.

Francisco Liriano pitched a perfect three innings to begin his start against the Cincinnati Reds. As a result, the Pirates were able to build a 3-0 lead on the back of solo home runs off the bats of Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin in the second, and a sacrifice fly to center by Pedro Alvarez that scored Andrew McCutchen from third base in the third.

But what Liriano did in the fourth inning was even more crucial to his success.

Liriano’s short-lived bid for a perfect game ended almost as soon as the fourth inning began when he plunked Shin-Soo Choo on the right elbow leading off the fourth. Ryan Ludwick then recorded Cincinnati’s first hit of the game.

Ludwick’s basehit put runners on first and second with no one out in the fourth, and the Reds still very much within striking distance. Due up then was a veritable facsimile of a modern day Murderer’s Row: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce. With no outs, remember.

Liriano responded by striking Votto out swinging and inducing a popout by Phillips to Neil Walker in shallow right field.

It wasn’t all roses as Bruce was able to break through on a single to his opposite field and Choo scored from second to cut the Pirates’ lead to 3-1.

Again, Liriano responded with a strikeout. This time, it was Todd Frazier who flailed at a ball in the dirt and was put away on a throw from Martin to first base. Liriano escaped his most dangerous situation of the evening having allowed just a run on two hits.

“That was big for me, especially when I hit Choo, a left-handed hitter,” Liriano said.

Once the third ended, the Reds could not advance another man past second base against Liriano as he retired nine of the final 11 batters he faced Tuesday. Liriano put a foot down, as Hurdle is fond of saying, and helped the Pirates prevent the Reds from gaining any traction in the game.

“I believe that was one of those circumstances that happened in the game when momentum changed uniforms,” Hurdle said. “They had the guys they’ve been counting on all year to go out.  We had the guy on the mound we were counting on.  He was able to make pitches in nice sequences and stop that right there.”

Pittsburgh responded to the Reds’ one run with two of its own on a RBI double by Walker, who later scored when Byrd hit into a fielder’s choice. The 5-1 lead was plenty for Liriano and the bullpen to finish off the Pirates’ first post-season victory in 21 years.

Liriano finished his outing after seven innings, in which he allowed just the one run on four hits and a walk as he also struck out five batters.

“You talk about a guy pitching a big game for a franchise, for his buddies in there,” Hurdle said. “Excellent outing from Francisco.”

The excellent outing was capitalized by that fourth inning, which Reds manager Dusty Baker was on the receiving end of.

“That meant a lot to them.  That was a big time in the game when we could have made some hay on the score,” Baker said. “We were threatening at that time and came away with nothing.”

Nate Barnes

Author: 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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  • http://allmyforeparents.blogspot.com Israel P.

    You’ve got two sacrifice flies by Pedro in this article.

  • CalipariFan506

    How on earth can Dusty Baker use 7 pitchers but not Chapman?

    I can’t believe how bad of a manager he is but I’m not complaining haha.

    • Andrew

      I had the same thought, you bring in Marshall he has one job, and fails to do it twice, and then Parra in the in the 6th. But not complaining that we didn’t see him or Hamilton.

      And Joey Votto, I really like him as a player, would root for him if he was outside the NL Central, just flat out over match against Liriano.

  • IC Bob

    I am not a Dusty fan and I think he probably holds the Reds back but not sure why you would think he should have brought Chapman in. How silly it would have been if in the 9th or 10th inning Chapman was used in the 4th or the 5th. As for Hamilton the guys who played in front of him were the only two offensive threats on the night. Heck it could be argued that if Hamilton had played the Bucs pitch a shut out. The guy has awesome speed but looks to be a 240 hitter at best. I would have loved to see a AAA outfielder/pinch runner out there last night.

    • Andrew

      Your assessment of Hamilton is correct, I was glad we did not see him because that meant the game was not close. You could make an argument that he should have played in center, because Choo is more of a corner outfielder defensively (and the only offense he brings against LHP is HBP) and if Hamilton puts the ball in play he will get on base at a high rate and easily advance to 2nd. However this is all suspect, I do not think the Reds and Dusty had a lot of options, in the match up against Liriano, they were dependent upon production from Ludwick, Frazier, Phillips, which did not materialize. (Going forward watching Hamilton will be interesting, if he can get on base at a fair rate he has a lot of value)

      I agree with CalipariFan506 on Chapman, this an extension of the argument to bring in your best reliever earlier with men on, or in scoring position, rather than save him for a situation that may not arise in the 9th.

    • Cato the Elder

      Not as silly as saving him for a 9th inning save situation that never happened.

  • CalipariFan506

    You have to use Chapman to keep the game close. If you get to the 9th or 10th you worry about it then.

    • smurph

      ICbob is right. The 2 guys Hamilton would have replaced had 5 of the Reds 7 hits. Both he and Chapman are one-trick players you save for a point where the game is on the line in the late innings. That situation never arose.
      In the article Nate forgot to mention the almost-HR by Frazier, which to me was the biggest moment of the game. If that ball is about 5 or 6 feet to the right, the Reds have a 4-3 lead, and all the momentum has swung to them.