Slider. Changeup. Slider. Slider. Slider. Slider. Slider. Changeup. Changeup. Slider. Changeup. Slider. Slider. Slider. Changeup. Slider. Slider. Fastball! Slider.
Francisco Liriano has won each of his first three starts for the Pirates.
Those were the pitches Francisco Liriano threw to get Cubs batters to swing and miss en route to nine strikeouts. In the Pirates’ 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, Liriano struck out nine hitters, gave up only one hit and one walk in his seven innings of work. Those 19 whiffs demonstrated Liriano’s dominance of the Cubs (18-27) this night, as did the fact that he recorded at least one strikeout every inning.
Liriano needed every strikeout and scoreless frame he could get, as he received little help from the Pirates’ offense (28-18), who went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The game’s lone run, and hit with RISP, came in the Bottom 1st off Cubs’ starter Jeff Samardzija. Andrew McCutchen roped a two-out double down the left-field line. One pitch later, Garrett Jones plopped a fastball into right field to score McCutchen.
After that dink-and-dunk first, both starting pitchers rotated easy innings on the mound. Samardzija gave up only one more hit (another double to McCutchen) and got eight strikeouts. In one 10-hitter span, the right-hander got nine whiffs and struck out six. For his part, Samardzija generated 15 swings-and-misses over seven innings, largely with the combination of a split-finger pitch, slider and fastball that touched 98 miles per hour.
Liriano’s heater was not as devastating, but he confounded the Cubs throughout his start with his breaking ball. The only road bump was in the 3rd inning. Cody Ransom singled to left, then Liriano walked Darwin Barney after going 0-2 on the second baseman. Samardzija laid a perfect bunt down the third-base line and Liriano’s throw pulled first baseman Garrett Jones off the bag.
Bases loaded, top of the order. But Julio Borbon hit a sharp grounder right at Jones, who threw home for the easy force. Liriano struck out Starlin Castro with two of his patented sliders and got Anthony Rizzo to fly out. Crisis averted. Liriano completed his seven innings, then turned it over to Tony Watson and Mark Melancon to seal the deal. Cubs catcher Welington Castillo was the only Chicago player with more than one hit.
The other hero in the Pirates’ victory was Pedro Alvarez. Though he was 0-for-3 at the plate, Alvarez made three stellar sliding plays on ground balls to his left side. Any of them could have dribbled through for hits, but the defensively-improving third baseman snared them all and proved to be Liriano’s best friend in the field.