Francisco Liriano has become the ace of the Pirates' staff. With the bullpen a bit overworked and the team looking to rebound from two losses in a row, tonight Liriano did what aces do, going deep into the game and keeping runs off the board, as the Pirates upended the Rockies, 5-2.
"You never take it for granted," Hurdle said of Liriano providing another strong start. "His ability to make good hitters take not real aggressive swings, that's what he's been able to do this year."
The Pirates' offensive chipped in as well, scoring three of their five runs in unexpected fashion. Jose Tabata hit a solo shot to right center field to lead off the fourth, his first homer since May 11. In the fifth, the Pirates scored when Gaby Sanchez hit a fairly pedestrian ground ball to Troy Tulowitzki's left that probably should have been an inning-ending double play, but Tulowitzki misplayed it and the ball rolled under his glove into center field, scoring Starling Marte from second. And in the sixth, Josh Harrison executed a picture-perfect squeeze play, which scored Tabata from third. It was the second successful squeeze play by the Pirates this season, the first coming May 29 against the Tigers.
"It feels good," Harrison said of his bunt. "You only get one chance at it, and Tabby did a great job of not leaving too early."
Liriano went seven innings, allowing only two hits, walking five and striking out six. His game score for the night was, 74. Bill James calls game scores over 65 "gems," and his outing tonight was indeed one. It is Liriano's eighth gem in 16 starts this season; his fifth in his last six starts and his third in a row.
The question of which Pirates pitcher should start if the Bucs were to play in the one game playoff at the end of the season has been fodder for sports talk radio in Pittsburgh lately. After tonight's performance, it is hard to imagine that question being interesting enough to continue discussing right now.
The Pirates look to take the series Sunday afternoon with A.J. Burnett on the mound.