A combination of clutch hitting and a second consecutive superb start from Francisco Liriano snapped a four-game losing streak for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they took a 5-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on a long Wednesday night into Thursday morning at PNC Park.
Thunderstorms in the area postponed the start of the game to nearly 10 p.m., but the wait was worth it for the Bucs, who rapped out 12 hits and pushed across five runs for the first time since last Friday, their most recent win. With the victory, their first over Oakland in 12 all-time meetings, the Pirates (54-36) kept pace at 1 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis in the National League Central.
Pedro Alvarez had two hits and two RBIs for Pittsburgh, while Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Starling Marte also banged out a pair of hits apiece. The Pirates went 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position, an area in which they’ve struggled mightily this season.
Where they haven’t had many problems is on the mound, especially with first-year Bucco Liriano toeing the rubber. After recording Pittsburgh’s first complete game of 2013 in his previous outing against the Cubs, Liriano restricted the A’s to four singles over seven innings of work, striking out six and walking one.
Relivers Justin Wilson and Jeanmar Gomez cleaned up the rest of the night with a scoreless inning each, keeping the Pirates’ skid from reaching a season-high five games. Pittsburgh has shut out its opponent 13 times so far, but hadn’t done it since June 18 in Cincinnati.
Oakland starter Tommy Milone sputtered, throwing 80 pitches to get eight outs before departing. The Pirates got three runs against him in the third, then tacked on two more in the fourth when sidearmer Pat Neshek took over.
Liriano cruised through the middle innings after the Pirates built a 5-0 lead, but the 29-year-old lefty had to battle early keep it scoreless. In the first, Liriano fired across the diamond to catch Coco Crisp too far off third base, completing an unconventional double play. In the third, the A’s (54-38) drilled a couple of hard grounders off Liriano to put a pair of runners on, but he induced Josh Donaldson into a 4-3 putout to end the threat.
The Pirates have scuffled all year with runners in scoring position posting an MLB-worst .650 OPS in such situations entering Wednesday’s game. Their performance in those spots was even worse in the opening two games of the series, getting just two hits in 14 opportunities.
That trend turned around quickly in the third inning, when the Pirates cashed in on three straight at-bats with a runner on second. The rally started with Marte’s hustling leadoff double to left, followed by Tabata’s blast into the left-center field gap to put Pittsburgh ahead 1-0. After Martin reached second on a fielder’s choice and a throwing error from shortstop Jed Lowrie, McCutchen and Alvarez knocked back-to-back RBI singles to right.
Martin made it a fourth hit with RISP when he grounded a two-out run-scoring single up the middle that chased Neshek in the fourth. Next up was Alvarez, who smoked a shot through the right side against Jerry Blevins to make it 5-0.
The pace of the game picked up considerably in the final five innings, with the clock ticking past midnight in the seventh. Gomez fired the final pitch of the evening around 12:45 a.m., although much of the paid crowd of 23,474 had yet to hit the exits.
The Pirates will enjoy their fourth off-day in three weeks Thursday before opening a three-game weekend series against the Mets at PNC Park. Charlie Morton gets the call Friday night against New York’s Jeremy Hefner, as the teams begin the final series prior to the all-star break.
Notes: Tuesday’s game was delayed nearly two hours, then additional rain came during the overnight hours, causing flooding in the area. The threat of bad weather might have limited attendance in the series, which didn’t top 25,000 in any of the three games…Oakland had been 11-0 against the Pirates since their first interleague meeting in 2002, the longest such unbeaten streak in major-league history…The game was broadcast nationally on ESPN.