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Pirates can't overcome Liriano's shaky start in 6-3 loss to Giants

| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 12:36 a.m.
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The Pirates' Tony Sanchez is congratulated by Andrew Lambo after Sanchez hit a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Giants on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Pirates' Francisco Liriano tosses the ball into his glove after walking the Giants' Hunter Pence in the fourth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
Pirates right fielder Andrew Lambo misses on a sliding catch on a foul ball from the Giants' Joaquin Arias during the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Pirates' Garrett Jones reacts after striking out for the third out of the top of the fourth inning against the Giants on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Giants' Marco Scutaro gets his throw off but not in time to complete the double play as the Pirates' Andrew Lambo slides into second base in the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Pirates' Gaby Sanchez hits an RBI single scoring Andrew McCutchen during the sixth inning against the Giants on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez (left) collides along the baseline as he tags out the Giants' Roger Kieschnick (22) during the sixth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
The Giants' Tim Lincecum lays down a sacrifice bunt against the Pirates during the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Pirates' Tony Sanchez trots around the bases after hitting a solo home run as Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum looks on in the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
Pirates' Tony Sanchez (59) (left) celebrates his solo home run with teammate Andrew Lambo during the fifth inning against the Giants on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro (left) forces out the Pirates' Andrew Lambo on a ground ball from Clint Barmes during the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws to the Pirates during the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Giants' Joaquin Arias scores on an infield single from Brett Pill in the first inning against the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
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The Pirates' Francisco Liriano pitches against the Giants on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
The Giants' Brett Pill (6) reaches base on an infield single as Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones bobbles the throw from third baseman Pedro Alvarez during the first inning Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.
The Giants' Buster Posey drives in a run with a broken-bat single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO — Pirates starter Francisco Liriano might be voted NL Comeback Player of the Year. It has been his year, from being plucked from the free-agent bargain bin to possibly garnering some Cy Young Award votes.

But Saturday was not Liriano's night, as he struggled in a 6-3 loss to the Giants.

To keep sole possession of first place in the NL Central on Saturday — the Cardinals beat the Braves, 6-2, earlier in the day — the Pirates needed a productive and efficient night from Liriano.

Instead, Liriano (14-6), who was seeking a career-best 15th win, struggled for the second time in his past four starts. He required 102 pitches to get through four innings.

“I was missing my spots,” Liriano said. “I was also making some good pitches they found a way to get them in play.”

Liriano did not have the same command or quality of stuff as he had in his last start in San Diego, when he struck out 13 Padres. As a result, Pirates will enter Sunday tied with the Cardinals for first place. The Reds are 2½ games back.

Liriano was not sharp, but he was not hit as hard as his pitching line of four runs and nine hits in four innings suggests. He allowed all four runs in the first.

Buster Posey's broken-bat, RBI single sent a shard of barrel in the general direction of Pedro Alvarez and perhaps prevented Alvarez from fielding the soft liner. The hit scored Marco Scutaro.

Brett Pill followed with a dribbler to Alvarez that resulted in an RBI infield single, scoring Joaquin Arias, who reached on a double down the right-field line — a flyball that appeared to land foul.

Pablo Sandoval followed with an RBI groundout, scoring Posey to give the Giants a 3-0 lead. Hector Sanchez slapped a Liriano pitch the other way to give the Giants four runs in the inning.

By the time Liriano struck out Tim Lincecum to end the first, the Giants had batted around and Liriano had thrown 38 pitches.

“It's one of those innings,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He wasn't sharp. He was out of rhythm.”

Like Liriano, Lincecum has been searching to regain his elite form over the past several seasons. A decline in velocity has correlated with a rising ERA.

But Lincecum was in control for the first four innings. He located his fastball well and had a fall-off-the-table changeup. He struck out the Pirates in order in the second and allowed just one hit and two walks over the first four innings.

Lincecum baffled the Pirates until the fifth, when rookie catcher Tony Sanchez turned around a 90-mph fastball for his first career home run and cut the Giants' lead to 5-1.

A fan threw a ball back onto the field, but it wasn't the home run ball, rather a Pony League ball. So as of Saturday night, Tony Sanchez was without a meaningful piece of personal memorabilia.

“My first home run ball is in someone's house,” Sanchez said.

Lincecum walked Andrew McCutchen and allowed a double to Alvarez in the sixth before being pulled to a standing ovation by a sellout crowd at AT&T Park.

Lincecum's final line — 5 13 innings, three runs, three hits, four walks, eight strikeouts — was tarnished by the Giants' bullpen, which gave up back-to-back RBI hits to Gaby Sanchez and Tony Sanchez.

The Giants added two runs by taking advantage of ineffective pitching from Pirates middle relievers Jared Hughes and Vin Mazzaro.

The Pirates' last, best threat came in the eighth. With runners on second and third, the Giants summoned left-hander Javier Lopez to face Alvarez with two on. Alvarez, who has a career .207 batting average against lefties, struck out on four pitches.

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