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Cardinals clip Liriano, Pirates in series opener

Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - The Cardinals' Jon Jay scores past Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>The Cardinals' Jon Jay scores past Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen sits on second base after the Cardinals thwarted a scoring opportunity with an inning-ending double play during the first inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen sits on second base after the Cardinals thwarted a scoring opportunity with an inning-ending double play during the first inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano receives a standing ovation from fans while leaving the game during the seventh inning against Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park. Liriano gave up one run before exiting.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano receives a standing ovation from fans while leaving the game during the seventh inning against Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park. Liriano gave up one run before exiting.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates right fielder Travis Snider makes a diving catch to rob the Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta during the eighth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates right fielder Travis Snider makes a diving catch to rob the Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta during the eighth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - The Cardinals' Kolten Wong slides into Pirates second baseman Neil Walker to break up a double play during the fifth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>The Cardinals' Kolten Wong slides into Pirates second baseman Neil Walker to break up a double play during the fifth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams makes a running basket catch in foul territory to retire the Pirates' Russell Martin during the second inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams makes a running basket catch in foul territory to retire the Pirates' Russell Martin during the second inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates catcher Russell Martin celebrates after turning a double play during the sixth inning against the Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates catcher Russell Martin celebrates after turning a double play during the sixth inning against the Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates reliever Jared Hughes labors through the Cardinals' three-run seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates reliever Jared Hughes labors through the Cardinals' three-run seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - The Cardinals' Tony Cruz slides safely back to second base next to Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer n a pickoff attempt during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>The Cardinals' Tony Cruz slides safely back to second base next to Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer n a pickoff attempt during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - The Cardinals' Kolten Wong hangs his head after being tagged out by Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez on a pickoff during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>The Cardinals' Kolten Wong hangs his head after being tagged out by Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez on a pickoff during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez points to the sky after hitting a solo home run next to home plate umpire Brian Gorman during the second inning against Cardinals Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez points to the sky after hitting a solo home run next to home plate umpire Brian Gorman during the second inning against Cardinals Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates reliever Jared Hughes tags out Cardinals pitcher John Lackey during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates reliever Jared Hughes tags out Cardinals pitcher John Lackey during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer can't reach a two-run single by the Cardinals' Matt Holliday during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer can't reach a two-run single by the Cardinals' Matt Holliday during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates left fielder Starling Marte strikes out swinging, as Cardinals catcher Tony Cruz throws out Pedro Alvarez on a caught stealing during the fourth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates left fielder Starling Marte strikes out swinging, as Cardinals catcher Tony Cruz throws out Pedro Alvarez on a caught stealing during the fourth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers to the plate during the first inning against Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers to the plate during the first inning against Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates manager Clint Hurdle removes reliever Jared Hughes from the game during the Cardinals' three-run seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates manager Clint Hurdle removes reliever Jared Hughes from the game during the Cardinals' three-run seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates catcher Russell Martin turns a double play next to the Cardinals' Matt Holliday during the sixth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates catcher Russell Martin turns a double play next to the Cardinals' Matt Holliday during the sixth inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - The Cardinals' Jon Jay scores the winning run past Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>The Cardinals' Jon Jay scores the winning run past Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano throws during the fifth inning against Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano throws during the fifth inning against Cardinals on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates reliever Jared Hughes picks off the Cardinals' Kolten Wong during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates reliever Jared Hughes picks off the Cardinals' Kolten Wong during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison gets into second base with a double next to the Cardinals' Kolten Wong during the first inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison gets into second base with a double next to the Cardinals' Kolten Wong during the first inning Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media - Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen crosses home plate after hitting a solo homer during the ninth inning against the Cardinals Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Trib Total Media</em></div>Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen crosses home plate after hitting a solo homer during the ninth inning against the Cardinals Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, 10:15 p.m.
 

The Pirates could not have asked for anything more from starting pitcher Francisco Liriano.

The left-hander handcuffed the St. Louis Cardinals for six innings Monday. Liriano had no margin for error, as the Pirates' only offense while he was in the game was Pedro Alvarez's solo homer.

“A well-pitched game,” manager Clint Hurdle said, “with no wiggle room.”

When Liriano left the game, everything fell apart.

A pair of two-out singles and an error by Andrew McCutchen helped the Cardinals score three runs in the seventh inning and rally for a 3-2 victory.

“We'll take any kind of win,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We've always had trouble with (Liriano). He's good, and he doesn't give up much.”

It was a rough way for the Pirates to start to a crucial nine-game stretch in which they will face the Cardinals six times.

Reliever Jared Hughes (6-4) yielded all three runs. Three of the four batters he faced reached base.

With one out, Tony Cruz lifted an 0-2 pitch into left-center field for a soft single.

“It was a location thing,” Hughes said. “I definitely didn't get it where I wanted it to be. I left it a little bit up-middle. He was able to put enough wood on it to get it into the outfield.”

John Lackey sacrificed Cruz to second base. Matt Carpenter walked.

Pinch hitter Jon Jay singled to center, scoring Cruz. When McCutchen booted the ball, Carpenter went to third and Jay to second.

“Jon was so ready,” Matheny said. “Even before I called for him, he was sitting behind me with his bat in hand, ready to go. He just sensed it. He always sees a big opportunity.”

Matt Holliday's two-run, ground-ball single to left gave the Cardinals the lead.

“I still have confidence in that pitch and in our team,” Hughes said. “If I continue to throw sinkers down in the zone, that ground ball will be hit to people, and tomorrow it will be a different outcome.”

Liriano tossed six scoreless innings. He allowed four hits and three walks, and struck out eight. He is winless in five starts since July 29 and owns just three victories in 23 outings overall.

“It's tough, but you can't do anything about it,” Liriano said of his low victory total. “Tonight, everything felt good. We just got the loss.”

Liriano was tabbed as the Opening Day starter after going 16-8 and being named NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2013. Yet, he has not performed like a staff ace.

Hurdle said Liriano's groin and oblique injuries are partly to blame.

“The other challenge has been (pitching) with consistency in the stretch,” Hurdle said. “It's something that's been challenging for him throughout his career.”

When they signed Liriano before last season, the Pirates knew what they were getting. In 2012, opponents had a .699 on-base plus slugging with the bases empty and a .796 OPS when Liriano pitched out of the stretch.

Last season, batters had a .578 OPS when Liriano worked out of the windup and a .663 OPS with runners on base.

“Last year, he was able to work through the stretch and made command pitches, get people out, keep it simple,” Hurdle said. “This year, it's been more of a challenge for him.”

Through Liriano's first 22 starts this year, opponents had a .687 OPS with the bases empty and a .694 OPS when he pitched from the stretch.

On Monday, Liriano was effective from both pitching positions.

Liriano had to go to the stretch for the first time in the second inning, when Jhonny Peralta reached on a fielding error by shortstop Jordy Mercer.

There's a theory that working out of the stretch can shave 2-3 mph off a pitcher's velocity. However, Liriano's fastball still hummed at 95 and 96 mph when he faced Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong with Peralta on first base. Taveras flied out, and Wong bounced into a fielder's choice.

In the bottom of the second, the Pirates took a 1-0 lead when Alvarez launched a fastball from Lackey (2-1) into the visitor's bullpen. It was Alvarez's 18th home run.

The Pirates got seven hits and three walks off Lackey but never came up with a game-breaker.

McCutchen hit a solo homer on closer Trevor Rosenthal's first pitch of the ninth inning, his 20th of the season.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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