PITTSBURGH – The notion surrounding this Pirates team is that it has become a six-inning game.
Tonight, the bullpen out-did itself. Francisco Liriano labored through three innings during which he threw 79 pitches, only 42 of them for strikes, and gave up seven hits and four earned runs. However, the Pirates stellar bullpen was able to relieve the struggling Liriano, and shut the Dodgers down six innings.
Fortunately for the Pirates, Liriano’s mound opponent Mat Latos also struggled, giving up six earned runs and lasting only four innings.
The Pirates’ big blow came from an unexpected source, none other than Fransisco Liriano, who went opposite field with a Latos 94-mph fastball. The pitch was high and away and Liriano rode it into the stands just to the right of the left-field foul pole for a three-run homer. Liriano has been well known for putting on impressive performances during pitcher’s batting practice by roping ball after ball into the right-field seats with ease. Tonight, however, he did something no one has ever seen from him before, homering in an MLB game for the first time in his 10-year career.
“Most of them are dead-pull – Right field, long. He loves to hit. It was a timely hit.” Hurdle said after the game. He then looked up and put it in great perspective:
“To work it to that part of the park, those things – that’s like Halley’s Comet. I’m really happy it happened. I always kid him, can I see a homer in my lifetime? As many as many as you’ve hit in BP.”
It was as important of a moment as any tonight, as the Pirates would have likely been battling from behind for much of the game without it.
Joe Blanton relieved Liriano in the fourth inning with the Pirates ahead 6-4 courtesy of an RBI groundout by Jung-Ho Kang and a deep home run to right field by Neil Walker. Blanton showed the form that the Pirates were forced to hit against last month in Kansas City when he was a member of the Royals. He struck out three Dodgers in three impressive innings of work, and reestablished some order into a game that was as wacky as any through the first three innings.
“One of the reasons we got him was his ability to pitch through the lineup,” Hurdle said.
After Blanton’s three scoreless innings, the Pirates went with the shutdown trio of Soria-Watson-Melancon, who were able to hold the lead and secure the Pirates’ 64th win of the season.
** Hurdle and Team Video Coordinator Kevin Roach went three-for-three tonight in manager’s challenges, overturning safe calls that stopped potential Dodger rallies. The successful challenges prevented big innings from materializing against both Liriano and Melancon.
“Every one of the calls was against us,” Hurdle said regarding the challenges. It could’ve changed the dynamic of the game dramatically as it went on.”
** Liriano looked to be dealing with some discomfort in the third inning, which led to a visit from both Pirates’ Trainer Todd Tomczyk and Hurdle. Liriano was able to finish the inning, but was promptly replaced by Blanton to start the top of the fourth. Hurdle said after the game that it was not injury related, but Liriano admitted to feeling a “little-something,” pointing to his upper right chest/oblique area.
Liriano says that he expects to be fine for his next start Thursday night in St. Louis.
** Andrew McCutchen is locked in. McCutchen reached base in all four of his plate appearances tonight, and has reached based in 13 of his last 17 plate appearances. In the month of August, he has a .524 OBP to go along with a 1.139 OPS. It is possible that McCutchen is on his way to another Player of the Month award.
** The Pirates will be looking for their seventh home sweep of the season tomorrow night when Charlie Morton goes up against Alex Wood. Wood is 1-1 this season against the Pirates, with a 2.19 ERA in 12.1 innings pitched.