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Despite illness, Liriano's mastery continues in victory over Reds

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano pitches during the first inning of the National League wild-card game Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, at PNC Park.

Where was Francisco Liriano?

Liriano, the man perhaps most responsible for leading the Pirates to the NL Division Series with a 6-2 win over the Reds on Tuesday in the wild-card game, was nowhere to be found during as the Pirates showered themselves with champagne and beer in the postgame clubhouse.

Where was Liriano? Where was the Pirates' ace who limited the Reds to one run and four hits in seven innings Tuesday?

He was sick.

Liriano pitched with what he described as a sinus infection. The left-hander grabbed a couple of bottles of antibiotics before speaking with a sparse group of reporters, who finally tracked him down early Wednesday morning.

Liriano said he was suffering from congestion and a sore throat, but he didn't pitch like he was sick. He had command of a two-seam fastball that reached 95 mph and helped produce 13 groundouts, and his slider was a wipeout offering.

“I was very calm. I wasn't trying to do too much,” Liriano said. “I tried to do the same thing I was doing the whole year.”

Which was dominate left-handers, produce swings and misses, and induce groundballs.

Tuesday's game was the matchup Pirates manager Clint Hurdle desired. He mapped out the rotation to ensure Liriano opened the postseason.

The pitcher no one wanted last offseason — Liriano was guaranteed just $1 million to pitch this year — became the pitcher mostly everyone in Pittsburgh wanted on the mound Tuesday night.

Liriano had dominated left-handed hitters all season, allowing just two extra base hits to lefties. The Reds' best hitters — Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Shin-Shoo Choo — are left-handed.

Votto, Bruce and Choo combined to go 1 for 8 with four strikeouts against Liriano.

Hurdle said Liriano's slider was the key neutralizing weapon against the Reds.

“Out of the chute, it did,” Hurdle said of the pitch. “They have a very good club offensively. But when you can neutralize Choo, Votto and Bruce, you are going to have a chance to win.”

Outside of an opposite-field RBI single by Bruce in the fourth inning, Liriano quieted the Reds and their left-handed bats.

Liriano threw 12 sliders to lefties in the first four innings. Eight were swung at and missed.

“He's had that slider pretty much the whole year,” Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. “It's been his bread and butter.

“The slider and the changeup look like fastballs coming out of his hand, and it's a fastball that can reach 96.”

Martin marveled at his composure.

“He seemed pretty calm warming up. In control,” Martin said. “Francisco didn't show much emotion, it seemed like another game for him.”

Even though it was anything but just another game.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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