He didn’t have a losing streak to stop Friday night, but Francisco Liriano put a serious halt to some bad feelings around the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing eight shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.
With the win, the Pirates (78-56) moved into a flat-footed tie with the Cardinals for the National League Central lead. Pittsburgh had dropped four of its last five to fall out of first place earlier in the week.
Liriano had serious offensive help from Garrett Jones, who took advantage of some time out of the lineup to retool his swing. The revamped approach paid off immediately, as the previously struggling first baseman went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, including a two-run double in the first and a solo home run in the fourth.
Russell Martin followed Jones’ homer to right with one of his own to center, pushing the Pirates’ advantage to 4-0 in the fourth. In the fifth, Jones plated Marlon Byrd, who had doubled, to make it a five-run margin.
The Pirates once again battered Cardinals rookie starter Shelby Miller, the fourth time Pittsburgh’s defeated the talented righty this season. The Bucs collected eight hits before chasing Miller, who threw 99 pitches in 4 1/3 innings.
But the bigger story was on the mound for the Pirates. Liriano allowed just four baserunners (two singles, two walks) in his 95-pitch outing. He needed 22 pitches to get through the first inning, but Liriano settled into a similar form he used to shut down the hard-hitting Cards in two previous outings, striking out six along the way.
The Bucs got to Miller quickly, with Jose Tabata singling and Neil Walker doubling to start the game, putting runners on second and third. But Miller rebounded to strike out Andrew McCutchen and Byrd, giving Jones an opportunity to support his teammates.
He did just that, smoking a liner to right field that nearly bounced to the wall. The PNC Park crowd of 38,026 was fully engaged, and the Pirates rode that energy all the way through the evening.
Mark Melancon allowed a pair of singles in the ninth, but a nifty first-to-short-to-pitcher double play capped the night and got the Jolly Rogers waving.
The Pirates will seek sole possession of first place Saturday night at 7:05. A.J. Burnett is set to oppose Lance Lynn on the North Shore.