PITTSBURGH (AP) — For a night, Francisco Liriano’s typical approach of erratic effectiveness was replaced by something more resembling pinpoint control.
The Pittsburgh Pirates starter struck out a season-high 10 against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday, walking just one. The problem that comes with working around the strike zone more often surfaced on the handful of pitches that Liriano didn’t put where he wanted.
The Cardinals found them. And they crushed them.
Jhonny Peralta hit a solo homer off Liriano and Matt Holliday added a three-run shot off the Pirates’ ace as the Cardinals raced to an 8-5 victory.
“Cannot make that many mistakes at this level,” Liriano said. “Just hang a couple of pitches over the plate and they got a pretty good swing on it.”
Liriano (1-2) saw his ERA rise from 1.93 to 2.79 after giving up six runs, five earned in 6 1-3 innings. Five of the six hits he gave up went for extra bases as the Pirates lost for the sixth time in seven games.
“Tough lineup,” Liriano said. “You cannot make mistakes to those guys. They’re ready to swing.”
Kolten Wong added three hits for the Cardinals, including a three-run shot off reliever Arquimedes Caminero in the seventh to break it open as St. Louis improved to a major-league best 22-7 and nine games clear of Pittsburgh.
“You’ve got to keep playing,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The season is not going to stop. We did some good things tonight offensively, found some traction there and found some momentum there.”
Starling Marte had three of Pittsburgh’s 12 hits. Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Francisco Cervelli had two each. The Pirates have 23 hits and 12 runs over their last two games after managing just five runs total during a five-game losing streak that ended Thursday.
Pittsburgh just couldn’t get the big hit it needed to get to St. Louis starter Michael Wacha (5-0), who put together six workmanlike innings, giving up three runs and six hits with one strikeout. Trevor Rosenthal worked the ninth for his 11th save for the Cardinals, who have won 10 of 11.
The Cardinals swept Pittsburgh in three taut games in St. Louis last weekend, winning all three on extra-inning walk-off hits despite managing just seven runs the entire weekend. They topped that number the first seven innings on Friday.
Pittsburgh’s sputtering offense gave Liriano an early boost when Gregory Polanco scored on an error by St. Louis third baseman Pete Kozma in the first. Peralta’s fourth homer of the season clanged off the batter’s eye in center field about 440 feet from home to tie it in the second. Holliday put the Cardinals up 4-1 in the fourth after Wacha reached on an error and Peter Bourjos doubled with a blast to the deepest part of PNC Park.
“I missed my spot,” Liriano said. “I tried to go away and it went right down the middle.”
Marte’s three hits upped his average to .275. The leftfielder is batting .344 (21 for 61) over his last 16 games, one of the few offensive bright spots for the Pirates.
“Great balance right out of the box, swinging at strikes, hitting the ball around the ballpark,” Hurdle said. “Approach is really good right now, really clean.”
Cardinals: 3B Matt Carpenter did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh due to what manager Mike Matheny called “extreme fatigue.” Carpenter had a scheduled day off on Thursday — the first game he did not start all season — but could return Tuesday when St. Louis begins a series in Cleveland. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are in a stretch of playing 20 straight games,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve had a lot of tough games recently and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s as hard of a worker as there is on this team.”
Pirates: RHP Charlie Morton was dominant during a rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Friday. Morton allowed two hits in seven shutout innings, walking two and striking out five. Morton is recovering from hip surgery. His last major league start was on Sept. 16, 2014.
Cardinals: Carlos Martinez (3-0) will try to stay unbeaten when he makes his seventh start of the season. The 23-year-old Martinez has a 1.29 ERA on the road, the fourth-best mark in the National League.
Pirates: Vance Worley starts for the Pirates. Worley gave up one run in six innings of a no-decision against the Cardinals in his previous start last Sunday.