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Cardinals defeat Liriano, Pirates, 6-1

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter scores past Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the first inning Saturday, April 5, 2014, at PNC Park.

The St. Louis Cardinals finally found a way to beat Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano.

When Liriano struggled with his control in the first inning Saturday, the Cardinals scored three quick runs. The Pirates could not do much against right-hander Joe Kelly and went down quietly, 6-1.

“Finally,” said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who hit a single and a solo homer. “Liriano was missing on the middle a lot, and we were ready to hit those mistakes. He's been tough for us since last year.”

Liriano (0-1) went into the game with a 4-0 record and a 1.16 ERA in four regular-season starts against the Cardinals. He beat them three times last season and once in 2009 when he pitched for the Minnesota Twins.

In those three starts last year, Liriano allowed two earned runs in 24 innings. On Saturday, he yielded three runs before getting the second out of the game.

“There were some technical difficulties in the first,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “There was really just one little mechanical glitch that he was battling.”

Hurdle didn't elaborate on what was out of sorts with Liriano in the first inning. And the left-hander shook his head when asked if he has a mechanical problem.

“No, I don't think so,” Liriano said. “They've got some good hitters, and I made a couple of mistakes, too. That's part of the game. I feel like I didn't have my stuff tonight. I was missing my spots with a couple pitches. And you have to give some credit to their hitters. I made some good pitches down and away, and they found a way to hit it.”

Liriano was ahead 0-2 against leadoff batter Matt Carpenter but lost him on a looping single to center field. Jhonny Peralta walked. Matt Holliday lined an RBI single up the middle.

Although he batted .454 last year with runners in scoring position, Allen Craig made the first out of the inning. His fly ball to right scored Peralta. Molina took a half-hearted swing, but it was enough to slap a single to right. Matt Adams' soft single made it 3-0.

Liriano needed 33 pitches, including only 18 strikes, to get out of the inning.

“One of those nights,” Liriano said with a shrug. “It was a battle for me.”

The second was a sharp contrast. After Kelly's leadoff double, the Cardinals made three quick outs. Liriano threw 14 pitches, 13 of them strikes, in the inning.

“He got on a nice roll,” Hurdle said. “He settled in and gave us a chance to win.”

The key was Liriano getting his slider back on track. He used it to whiff Carpenter and to induce ground outs by Peralta and Holliday.

The Pirates got a run in the third. With two outs, Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen hit back-to-back singles.

Pedro Alvarez, who drew a five-pitch walk in the first inning, walked again on four pitches. Kelly seemed to be extra cautious against Alvarez, who mashed a pair of home runs Friday. Russell Martin walked to score Snider.

After Kelly's double, Liriano retired 13 straight. The stretch included four strikeouts and six ground ball outs. Yet, in the fifth, Peralta and Holliday drove the ball for fly outs — a signal that Liriano was starting to get the ball up again.

That worry was confirmed in the sixth, when Molina deposited an 0-2 slider into the left field bleachers. Molina's second homer of the season gave the Cardinals a 4-1 lead. Peralta hit a two-run shot in the ninth off Jeanmar Gomez.

Kelly (1-0) allowed six hits and four walks in 5 13 innings.

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

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