Sunday, April 3, 2016

Liriano's 10 K's, RBI send Bucs past Cards

Lifting the curtain on the 2016 regular season with a matchup between the Majors' winningest teams over the last three years, the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 4-1, on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
Francisco Liriano tied a Pirates Opening Day record with 10 strikeouts, held the Cardinals scoreless for six innings and drove in the Bucs' first run of the season -- the first in baseball this year -- with a second-inning RBI single to right field. The lefty didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning, when he escaped the first of two bases-loaded jams.
Matt Carpenter drove in a run with a two-out RBI single in the ninth off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in a non-save situation to cut the deficitto to three runs, but Melancon then retired potential tying run Matt Adams for the final out.
Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright allowed three runs on six hits over six innings, permitting two runs in the second inning and another -- after a Francisco Cervelli triple and a sacrifice fly by Josh Harrison -- in the sixth.
The Pirates' late-inning trio of Tony WatsonNeftali Feliz and Mark Melancon retired the Cardinals with a scoreless inning each in order to seal their season-opening win.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Unlikely RBI leader: With one out and runners on the corners in the second inning, Liriano came to the plate against Wainwright. Liriano swung at the first pitch he saw, an 87-mph cutter, and bounced it past Jordy Mercer, running from first base, into right field. Gregory Polanco, who doubled to lead off the inning, scored easily from third to give the Pirates an early lead -- and briefly establish Liriano as the Majors' RBI leader.
Missed opportunities: Twice Kolten Wong came to the plate with the bases full against Liriano, and twice he was unable to push across a run. Following a two-out walk by Yadier Molina in the fourth, Wong struck out swinging. He then popped out to second baseman Harrison with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth. Wong entered the game 4-for-19 in his career against Liriano.
First act: Reliever Seung Hwan Oh and outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker both made their Major League debuts for the Cardinals. Hazelbaker pinch-hit for Wainwright to open the seventh and took a called third strike. Oh pitched the bottom half of that frame and worked around two walks to throw a scoreless inning. Oh, a longtime closer in Asia, struck out two.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• This was Liriano's second career 10-strikeout Opening Day start. Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (three times) is the only other active pitcher with multiple 10-strikeout performances on Opening Day.
• Strange, but true: Liriano became the first pitcher in Major League history to record a pitching line of exactly six innings, three hits, zero earned runs, five walks and 10 strikeouts.
• Matt Holliday started at first base for the Cardinals. Until Sunday, every one of Holliday's 1,614 games played on a big league field had been played as a left fielder. Holliday's time at first Sunday didn't last long, as he moved to left after Tommy Pham exited with left oblique tightness.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Because of a technical glitch in the instant replay system at PNC Park, both teams were awarded an unlimited number of crew chief challenges for Sunday's game. In total, the umpires reviewed three calls, none of which were overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT
Cardinals: The Cardinals will hold an optional workout at PNC Park on Monday's off-day before resuming their season with a 6:05 p.m. CT game on Tuesday. Michael Wacha draws the start for St. Louis. Wacha struggled for command throughout much of spring but made a mechanical adjustment before his last start and finished with five scoreless innings.
Pirates: After an off-day Monday, the Pirates and Cardinals will return to PNC Park at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Left-hander Jonathon Niese will make his Pittsburgh debut after coming over in a December trade for longtime second baseman Neil Walker. Acquired to shore up the middle of the Bucs' rotation, Niese went 9-10 with a 4.13 ERA for the Mets last season.

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