Monday night began not only the most important series of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but perhaps it began the biggest series in the history of PNC Park.
With that in mind the Bucs started things off in a good way clubbing out nine hits and riding a strong performance from starting pitcher Francisco Liriano en route to a 9-2 victory over the National League Central division leading St. Louis Cardinals.
Entering Monday night sitting just 1.5 games behind the Red Birds in the division, the struggling Pirates’ offense got exactly the medicine they needed to heat the bats up- Cardinals’ starter Jake Westbrook.
The Pirates have always hit Westbrook (7-5) well at PNC Park and Monday night was no exception as the Bucs got to Westbrook early, striking for four runs in the first, three coming off the bat of third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
Andrew McCutchen made it a 1-0 game by plating Jose Tabata, who led off the game by drawing a walk. Alvarez then followed with his National League leading 27th homer of the season to open up a quick 4-0 lead.
That would be all Liriano (11-4) needed on the night.
The southpaw retired the first 10 Cardinals hitters and allowed only four hits and one run through seven innings of work while striking out eight.
St. Louis got on the board in the sixth when Matt Carpenter singled home pinch hitter Tony Cruz who led off the inning with a triple. The Cardinals then threatened in the seventh when Liriano walked a pair of hitters with two outs and went to a full count on Pete Kozma before getting him to fly out to center to end the threat.
The Bucs added some insurance runs in their half of the seventh.
Gaby Sanchez made it a 5-1 game by recording the Bucs first sacrifice fly to an outfielder since May 27. Alex Presley, who was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis earlier in the day, then delivered an RBI single to make it a 6-1 affair. The Bucs added two more on shortstop Clint Barmes’ second double of the game and stretched the lead to 9-1 when the struggling Starling Marte delivered a pinch hit RBI single.
The Cardinals added a run in the ninth off of Pirates rookie Vic Black who ran into a bit of trouble but struck out Matt Adams and got Daniel Descalso to fly out to end the ballgame.
The win pulls the Pirates to just a half game behind the Cardinals in the division, with four more matchups upcoming in this rare five-game series.
The two teams will be back at it tomorrow as they play a double header scheduled to begin at 4:05 p.m.