Monday, July 16, 2018
Sports

Pitcher's RBI lifts Pirates in opener

PITTSBURGH — Clint Hurdle spent spring training tinkering with the Pirates' lineup and preaching the importance of selflessness. Of moving runners over. Of being patient at the plate and aggressive on the bases.

The message found an unlikely landing spot in pitcher Francisco Liriano.

The veteran tied a Pirates opening day record by striking out 10 and singled home the first run of the 2016 major-league season for good measure, sending Pittsburgh past the Cardinals 4-1 Sunday.

It was 39 degrees when Liriano threw the first pitch of the year at sunny but frosty PNC Park. He allowed three hits and walked five in six shutout innings. His RBI hit in the second came off St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright.

"Just trying to take good at-bats and put the ball in play," Liriano said.

A refrain his manager repeated over and over during the offseason after Pittsburgh traded second baseman Neil Walker and cut first baseman Pedro Alvarez, an exodus of power the Pirates knew they couldn't replace. So instead Hurdle got creative, placing former Ray John Jaso atop the order and bumping Andrew McCutchen from third to second and emphasizing the need to take smart chances to generate offense.

"You need to be able to perform in the box and execute," Hurdle said. "You know there's some at-bats to sacrifice."

Yet Hurdle let Liriano — a career .121 hitter — swing away in the second with runners at the corners and one out, resulting in a crisp single to left that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would not relinquish in the meeting of the teams with the majors' best records since the start of 2013.

"We know he's a wild card when you send him up there," Hurdle said. "Thought, 'Let him take a couple whacks at it and see what will happen.' "

David Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP for the Cardinals, had two hits against his former club in his debut with Pittsburgh. Liriano was pretty good on the mound, too, wriggling out of jams in the third, fourth and sixth while tying the club's opening day mark for strikeouts set by John Candelaria in 1983 and matched by Liriano in 2014.

"When he has swing and miss stuff, he's pretty good," Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer said.

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