video thumbnail

NL WC: Liriano tosses seven frames of one-run ball

The Pirates returned the favor on the Cardinals by lighting up the scoreboard to knot up the National League Division Series, bringing some added electricity to the matchup of NL Central rivals.

Now, it's time for a Blackout.

PNC Park will be the venue for Game 3 of the NLDS, and as the Pirates head home having wrested the home-field advantage from the Cards with their Game 2 victory, Pittsburgh's fans will be ready to deliver their black-clad brand of boisterous support for their club.

On top of that atmosphere, the Pirates will have lefty starter Francisco Liriano on the mound after a dominant season against the Cardinals, meeting second-year right-hander Joe Kelly on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, TBS).

For Pittsburgh native Neil Walker, the chance to take control of the series before a home crowd hungry to see the first-ever Division Series game in the tradition-rich town is an opportunity the Bucs will savor.

"We know playing at home is more beneficial to us," Walker said after the Pirates took Game 2, 7-1. "We also know that St. Louis is not going to be rattled. They've played in a lot of hostile environments. We know we'll have to play good baseball, like today, to be successful."

The Cardinals head to Pittsburgh knowing they need to win at least one game to bring the series back to St. Louis, and they know what to expect from the environment at PNC Park.

"They're going to be rowdy, and they're going to be into it, and they should be, just like our fans have been," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

While they've dealt well with any environment and have overcome challenges throughout the season, the Cardinals have not been able to handle Liriano thus far this season.

The veteran lefty has gone 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA against the Cardinals in three starts this year, spinning eight scoreless innings against them his last time facing them on Aug. 30. Overall, Liriano has been masterful at home, going 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 starts at PNC Park.

"I don't know what to say," Liriano said when asked about his success at PNC. "I think I've been able to execute pitches here, and the guys behind me make some great plays for me here."

For the Pirates, the situation couldn't be much more comfortable under the tense conditions of October baseball.

"Now we're getting to back to our house, which has been a good place for us to play, and we'll have Liriano on the mound," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "So from that standpoint, we're set up as strong as we could want to be set up for Game 3."

For the Cardinals, facing Liriano means an opportunity to turn things around against a pitcher who has done a lot of damage against them this season.

"I know Liriano has pitched great and all that, but you never know," said veteran Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, who has gone 3-for-10 while the Cardinals overall have batted .149 against Liriano. "Starters sometimes don't feel it, and all of a sudden, they start putting balls down the middle and the other team takes advantage of it. I know they're hoping for him to pitch a good game, and we're hoping he throws some pitches right down the middle."

The Cardinals are countering with Kelly, who went 10-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 15 outings since joining the rotation July 6. He made consecutive starts against the Pirates at the beginning of September, winning both by pitching six innings and allowing just one run.

This will be a different and bigger stage, but Kelly is looking forward to the opportunity.

"It's going to be fun. I'm going to face a good pitcher in Liriano," Kelly said.

And, of course, it'll all take place under Blackout conditions.

"The atmosphere is going to be electric, obviously, and I think our side is looking forward to it," Kelly said. "Their side is obviously going to look forward to it, and we're going to go out there and have a good ballgame."

Cardinals: Needing youth to serve
In Kelly and Michael Wacha, the Cardinals are going with two young starters in their games at Pittsburgh, and that fits in with how things have gone this year. Kelly, in his second year, and rookies Wacha and Shelby Miller stepped up in a big way for St. Louis this year when the Cardinals needed them.

"We've been using the young guys all year long," catcher Yadier Molina said, "and they've been doing a good job for us."

Said Matheny: "We're really happy with how all of our starters ended the season. We felt very comfortable throwing any of them in any particular spot."

• Even after a pair of games with wide margins of victory, Matheny says the games have to be approached as close ones, regardless of the score.

"Even the other day when we had the lead, we wanted to keep the throttle down and know that [the Pirates] would keep coming," Matheny said. "I sense in their dugout they believe the same thing. Our offenses both have the ability to explode, which makes any game a close game."

Pirates: Alvarez off to hot start
He has a ways to go in order to catch up to Beltran as an all-time postseason star, but Pedro Alvarez is off to a fine start in his first outing in October.

Alvarez had a pair of homers and a double in the first two games in St. Louis, driving in three runs and scoring three. The NL co-leader with 36 homers in the regular season, he became the fifth Pirates player to homer in consecutive playoff games with a blast to dead center to get the Pirates' party started Friday. He's the first Pirate to homer in back-to-back playoff games since Willie Stargell in the 1974 NLCS.

"Nothing better than Pedro getting his bat running hot right away," Hurdle said. "There is not a park he can't hit it out of. He can drive it out from line to line. He misses balls and they carry over the fence."

• With the change in venue, the teams will be playing in a park with decidedly different dimensions, including a left-center "nook" at 410 feet and a distance of 383 feet to straightaway left.

"It's the largest left field in baseball," Hurdle said. "It's reminiscent of the old days in Yankee Stadium. There's plenty of right-handed batters who hit the ball, flip their bat and we catch it at the track, if not in front of the track."

While the Cardinals have played there enough to know the difference and probably wouldn't be caught in that trap, that setup is the reason the Pirates double up with speed in the outfield, Andrew McCutchen in center and Starling Marte in left.

Worth noting
• Through Game 2, the Pirates' all-time postseason record is 42-50. The Cardinals are at 113-99.

• McCutchen has hits in each of his three postseason games thus far, going 5-for-11 this October.

• Molina's homer in Game 2 was his third in a long postseason career, but his first since the 2006 NL Championship Series. He hit his other homer in that NLCS as well.

• With six home runs this postseason, the Pirates already have the third most for any October run in team history, behind 1971 (13) and '79 (seven).

MLB.com Comments