Francisco Liriano has done a tremendous job ending losing streaks for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but on Saturday evening in San Francisco, the power-throwing lefty inadvertently helped cut off a winning streak.
Liriano, who had dominated the Cardinals and Padres in his last two starts, struggled with the Giants at AT&T Park, allowing four runs and nine hits in just four innings as the defending World Series champions topped the Pirates 6-3.
Pittsburgh (76-53) had won the first two games of its four-game set in San Francisco and is still 4-2 on its current road trip, but Saturday’s loss dropped the Bucs into a flat-footed tie with the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. St. Louis has won four in a row to chase down Pittsburgh with 33 games to play.
The struggling Giants, just 33-35 at home and 57-72 overall, batted around in the first inning to build a 4-0 lead. Buster Posey, Brett Pill, Pablo Sandoval and Gregor Blanco picked up RBIs in the frame, forcing Liriano to extend himself much earlier than he would’ve preferred. Liriano’s control failed him in his 102-pitch outing, as his fastball frequently caught too much of the plate.
Tony Sanchez blasted his first big league homer in the fifth against Tim Lincecum to get the Pirates on the board, then he and Gaby Sanchez ripped run-scoring singles in the sixth. But the Giants kept the Bucs at arm’s length with single runs in the fifth and sixth against relievers Jared Hughes and Vin Mazzaro, respectively.
The Pirates’ best chance to make the late innings interesting came in the seventh, when Jose Tabata singled and Neil Walker reached on an error with one out against Sandy Rosario. However, Andrew McCutchen flied out to deep right field and Pedro Alvarez struck out to maintain the Giants’ three-run lead.
Tabata doubled off San Francisco’s Sergio Romo with two gone in the ninth – his team-high third hit of the game – only to be stranded on Walker’s game-ending groundout. Walker, McCutchen and Alvarez went a combined 1 for 11, with Pedro’s rally-boosting double in the sixth serving as the only hit.
Lincecum departed in that sixth inning and was charged with all three Pirates runs after Jose Mijares and Jean Machi allowed back-to-back RBI hits to the Sanchezes. Lincecum labored through 5 1/3 innings, walking four and striking out eight.
Reigning NL MVP Posey collected three hits, while Blanco had two and Hunter Pence reached base three times. The last-place Giants are 2-4 on their ongoing seven-game homestand.
The Pirates will go for the series victory and a 5-2 West Coast journey Sunday afternoon when they send 36-year-old righty A.J. Burnett to the pitching rubber. The Giants will toss out former Bucco Ryan Vogelsong.
Notes: Prior to the game, the Pirates placed outfielder Starling Marte on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 18, making him eligible to return Sept. 4. Andrew Lambo was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Marte’s place on the 25-man roster.