The Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to a great start to the season. The Pirates toppled the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 in the first of three opening day games today at PNC Park and then reportedly signed right fielder Gregory Polanco to a contract extension.
Pittsburgh (1-0) improved to 2-3 on opening day over the last five years thanks to a dominating performance by starter Francisco Liriano. The 32-year old left-hander was wildly effective giving up no runs and three hits in six innings. He also walked five and struck out 10 – setting a franchise opening day strikeout record. Overall, Liriano faced 26 batters and threw 96 pitches.Liriano, making his third straight opening day start, improved to 36-25 as a member of the Pirates and 5-2 against the Cards in 12 starts since 2013. He also upped his record to 15-10 at PNC Park over that span. The win was Liriano's first opening day start as member of the Pirates though he matched his 2014 opening day strikeout, as he struck out 10 Chicago Cubs. Bob Veale (1965), John Candaleria (1983) and A.J. Burnett (2013) are the other Pirates to strike out 10 batters on opening day according to WSBT.
Liriano got off to a fast start today, getting the Cardinals' first two hitters to ground out on three pitches. He then struck out Matt Holiday on six pitches. Liriano breezed through the second inning striking out all three batters, with Yadier Molina the only one to go down looking.
Pittsburgh got things going in the second inning, after mustering one hit the opening frame off of St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright (0-1). Polanco pulled Wainwright's first pitch of the inning to deep right field for a double. He moved to third on a Josh Harrison ground out to shortstop. Following a Jordy Mercer walk, Liriano drove in Polanco with a single to right field to become the first Pirates'pitcher in 10-years to record an RBI on opening day. Leadoff hitter John Jaso then followed with a single to center to score Mercer from second.Liriano opened the third frame by striking out Kolten Wong. The very next batter, Jedd Gyorko became the first Cardinal to reach base when he drew a walk. Wainwright reached base on fielder's choice, which Gyorko moved to third on a throwing error by catcher Francisco Cervelli. Liriano escaped unscathed by inducing Matt Carpenter into a double-play.
St.Louis' best opportunity came in the sixth inning when Liriano walked Holiday and Stephen Piscotty. With one out, Molina singled to left center to load the basses. However, Liriano settled down and got Wong to pop out and got Gyorko to ground into a fielder's choice.The Pirates added one run in the seventh and one in the eighth. Cervelli, who along with Polanco and David Freese had multiple hit games, scored in the seventh after opening the inning with a triple. Mercer knocked in Polanco for a 4-0 lead. Polanco also walked once and scored twice.
Yahoo Sports is reporting that following the game, Polanco, 24, and the Pirates have agreed on a five-year contract extension with two club options. The deal is expected to be worth around $35 million with an official announcement coming later this week.
The Cardinals would not go easy in the ninth against Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon, scoring a run on two hits. St. Louis managed just five hits, with Molina having two of them, while striking out 14 times against four Pirates' pitchers.
Wainwright allowed six runs and all three of the runs he gave up were earned in six innings. He also walked three and struck out three. Wainwright faced 26 batters overall, giving up six ground ball and eight fly balls.
"I was the definition of average today," Wainwright said, "which is the opposite of what I expect to be."
St. Louis and Pittsburgh have ranked one and two in the majors in wins since 2013, combining for 488 victories. The Cards have earned 287 of those victories while the Pirates now have 281. The Cards also hold a slight edge (30-28) in the series during that span.
The two clubs will resume the three-game set Tuesday with right-hander Michael Wacha slated to go for the Cards and lefty Jonathon Niese making his debut for Pittsburgh. Another newcomer, Juan Nicasio, will take the mound for the Pirates while St. Louis will go with former Cincinnati Red Mike Leake on Wednesday.
[Photo by Gene J.Puskar/Associated Press]