Pirates open MLB season with victory against Cardinals
PITTSBURGH — Clint Hurdle spent spring training tinkering with the Pittsburgh 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 Baseball season for good measure, sending Pittsburgh past the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 on Sunday.
It was 39 degrees when Liriano threw the first pitch of the year at sunny but frosty PNC Park. He allowed just three hits and walked five in six shutout innings. His RBI hit in the second came off Cardinals 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 catcher turned first basman 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 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 two best records in the majors 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. Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco also had two hits apiece for the Pirates. 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.
Wainwright gave up three runs in six innings, walking three and striking out three in his first regular season start since tearing his Achilles last April.
"I certainly got better as I went along," Wainwright said. "But I'm still a little off timing or something, there's something that has not clicked yet."
The Cardinals left 10 men on base, including two in the ninth against Mark Melancon, who led the majors in saves last year. Matt Carpenter hit an RBI single with two outs but Matt Adams, representing the tying run, flied out to end it.
"We had guys in scoring position with less than two outs more than once and that's something we take a lot of pride in figuring out how to get it done," manager Mike Matheny said. "It just didn't happen today."
While the teams may have been ready for the MLB opener, the replay system at PNC Park was not. The start was delayed 10 minutes due to an issue with the replay equipment in the visitor's dugout. The difficulties persisted, and both teams were allowed unlimited crew chief reviews, which are usually limited to the seventh inning or later or potential home runs.
A replay in the first inning confirmed that Andrew McCutchen was hit by a pitch from Wainwright.
Cardinals: Left fielder Tommy Pham left in the middle of the second inning with tightness in his left oblique. Matt Holliday, who was making his first career start at first base after more than 1,663 games in either left field or as a designated hitter, moved back to left to replace Pham. Adams took over at first for Holliday. ... Reliever Jordan Walden will be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with a Grade 2 strain of his right latissimus dorsi muscle. He missed the final five months of the 2015 season with a right rotator cuff injury.
Pirates: All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole threw six innings and 97 pitches without incident in Florida on Friday. The team has not yet announced when Cole, who dealt with a rib issue during spring training, will make his first 2016 start. ... Reliever Jared Hughes, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left lat, ran the steps at PNC Park on Sunday but has not yet been cleared to throw.
Cardinals: Michael Wacha starts Tuesday vs. the Pirates. An All-Star last season while going 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA, Wacha is 6-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 10 April starts during his career. The 24-year-old went 2-1 with a 3.97 ERA in 2015 against Pittsburgh.
Pirates: Jon Niese, acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Mets in exchange for second baseman Neil Walker, will make his debut with Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Niese went 9-10 with a 4.13 ERA for the Mets in 2015.