Pirates whip Cardinals, 9-2, in series opener

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, July 29, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

To the large crowd that jammed PNC Park on Monday, the opening act of this extended showdown between the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals lived up to its hype.

Powered by Pedro Alvarez's three-run homer, the Pirates built a four-run lead before making their first out. Left-hander Francisco Liriano did the rest, strangling the Cardinals for seven innings to secure a 9-2 victory.

“We answered the bell,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “A good game for us, all across the board.”

This five-game series, the first one at PNC Park in 12 years, will impact the NL Central standings and wild-card chase. The Pirates are within one-half game of the first-place Cardinals; the clubs have held the top two spots in the division since late June.

More than anything else, this series can be a measuring stick. Information gathered now could be invaluable in October.

Whose offense is more productive? Whose rotation is mightier? Whose bullpen is more reliable? Who can show more savvy — and more poise?

“Our styles of baseball are pretty similar,” second baseman Neil Walker said before the game. “We know where we are as a team. We know we can play with St. Louis. We know we can play with anybody. It's just a matter of finding ways to get it done.”

Liriano (11-4) scattered four hits, gave up one run and struck out eight. He has a 1.61 ERA in seven starts at PNC Park this year.

“I just tried to do my job and not do too much,” Liriano said. “Every game counts for us.”

Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook (7-5) has never had much luck on the North Shore. Over his first nine career starts at PNC Park, the righty went 0-5 with a 5.86 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP.

On April 16, Westbrook gave up four runs in the first inning against the Pirates. That game was rained out — all the stats were erased — and will be made up as part of Tuesday's doubleheader.

The rainout only postponed the damage to Westbrook's ERA. The Pirates again jumped on him for four runs in the first inning, which ignited the crowd of 32,084.

Jose Tabata drew a leadoff walk. Walker was nicked on the shin by a pitch. Andrew McCutchen rolled an RBI single into center field.

Westbrook's next pitch was an 89 mph sinker, and Pedro Alvarez swung like he knew it was coming. Right fielder Carlos Beltran didn't flinch; he turned and watched as the ball arced into the seats above the Clemente Wall.

“I missed my pitch to Alvarez by a foot,” Westbrook said. “Not really something I want to do, especially to him, and it hurts.”

Westbrook threw 100 pitches but lasted only five innings. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny went to his bullpen much earlier than he would've liked — which could cause trouble, with a doubleheader looming Tuesday.

“We chase wins,” Matheny said before the game. “If we have an opportunity to win tonight, we're going to chase it and deal with tomorrow as it comes.”

Tony Cruz pinch-hit for Westbrook leading off the sixth and tripled. He scored on Matt Carpenter's soft single to center field.

It was not nearly enough. Liriano avoided more damage by striking out Beltran and getting Matt Holliday to ground into a double play.

The Pirates added five runs in the seventh. Alex Presley, called up from Triple-A, got an RBI single. Clint Barmes lined a two-run double. Starling Marte had a pinch-hit, run-scoring single.

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

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