On a day in which the Pirates' starting rotation suffered a blow with news that Wandy Rodriguez had been shut down, Francisco Liriano lifted the team in the evening with yet another strong start.
Coming into the season one of the concerns surrounding Liriano was his walk rate, which had ballooned to 12.6 and 12.7 percent in 2011 and 2012. After tonight's one walk outing his walk percentage is down to 8.9 percent. Most importantly, his walk rate with runners in scoring position sits at 8.4 percent, down from 15.3 percent last season.
Liriano's pitching line tonight reads: six innings pitched, seven hits, one earned run, one walk, six strikeouts, 59 game score. His ERA for the season is now, 2.23.
The Pirates offense was supplied by a pair of solo home runs from Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones. Pedro's home run left the park over the right field stands, landed in a tree near the river walk and rolled into the Allegheny River. Jones' home run found the shrubbery in centerfield, landing just short of the manicured "Pirates" lettering.
Alvarez's home run was his 10th of the month of June, a month in which he has hit a scorching .330/.402/.725.
Jones' home run was his second of the month, a month in which he has struggled: .247/.293/.370 .
When Liriano left the game in the sixth, the Pirates were protecting a one run lead, 2-1. Tony Watson came in for relief and pitched a clean seventh. Then manager Clint Hurdle turned the final six outs over to the two-headed Melancon-Grilli monster and, well, they did what they've done all season and that was it. The Bucs secured their eighth consecutive victory (most consecutive wins since 2004) and improved their record to a Major League best, 50-30.
Another storyline from tonight's game was the crowd. For the fifth game in a row PNC Park was sold out (a park record for consecutive sellouts) and it was loud. The spontaneous "Let's Go Bucs" chant that rumbled through the park in the 9th inning was one of more electric moments of the season.
"That crowd is significant," Hurdle said afterwards, "the guys are feeling it, they’re enjoying it."
"Sellout crowds, we've been waiting for that," Pirates closer Jason Grilli added, "I'm excited and elated to be in a situation where that energy is just soaking up, going into me. You know you absorb that."
Brewers pitcher Donovan Hand took the loss.
Much has been made of Pedro Alvarez's streaking hitting ways. The graph below shows his moving 10-game OPS average for his first 72 games played in 2012 (line) and 2013 (yellow fill)
(Click to enlarge)