Francisco Liriano and Andrew McCutchen led the Pirates to a 1-0 victory before a sparse crowd to watch a now-rudderless Braves team at Turner Field Monday night. It was the third straight 1-0 game in which the Pirates have played, and they've won two of those.
After all the drama surrounding the Braves this morning, tonight's game was a relatively quiet one -- the Gameday page features nine highlight videos, including "Fan's scream interrupts Holdzkom's delivery," "Third base coach dashes away from foul ball," and (my favorite) "Sanchez eats energy bar, doesn't like it." The two teams managed just eight hits total.
The lack of hits is becoming the new normal for Liriano, who has now allowed four hits or fewer in all of his five September starts, breezing through outings even with relatively high walk totals. Liriano walked four tonight, issued a wild pitch, and allowed the Braves their share of baserunners, but he struck out seven and was very effective overall, as he typically has been recently. He hasn't allowed more than one run in a start since August 31, or more than two since August 19. Anyway, Liriano got a bit of help from Russell Martin in the fifth, when Liriano walked Phil Gosselin, who Martin then erased on a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play. Other than that, Liriano didn't need much more than his slider, with which he got plenty of swings and misses.
The game remained scoreless through the first five innings, with the Pirates unable to solve Aaron Harang and his 86-MPH fastballs. Facing his first batter of the sixth, though, Harang made a big mistake, throwing McCutchen a fastball waist high. McCutchen knows what to do when that happens, which is to blast a line drive into the seats in left center.
Tony Watson had pitched the previous two days, so the Pirates relieved Liriano with Jared Hughes followed by John Holdzkom in the eighth and then Mark Melancon. That worked fine, because Hughes and Melancon are good and because Holdzkom is to relief pitching what a TI-84 is to basic addition. Holdzkom's one strikeout of the evening came on a favorable call on a beautiful 1-2 fastball that was actually just out of the strike zone. I love him, in case you can't tell. (By the way, Clint Hurdle after the game, on Holdzkom: "This is a crowd he is more used to." Oh snap.)
Anyway, the Pirates are now a full five games up on the Brewers, who didn't play tonight and whose season is just about over. The Bucs are a half game up on the Giants, who play the Dodgers starting now. The Pirates still haven't officially clinched a playoff spot, but it's safe to say they shouldn't be setting any tee times next week. They can clinch a spot tomorrow if they win and the Brewers lose.