PITTSBURGH -- With the Pirates and Cardinals taking the field at PNC Park for the opener of the entire 2016 season Sunday afternoon, it was reasonable to expect a few "firsts" from Pittsburgh left-hander Francisco Liriano.First strikeout? Sure, he had 10 of them, tying a Bucs Opening Day record. First
PITTSBURGH -- With the Pirates and Cardinals taking the field at PNC Park for the opener of the entire 2016 season Sunday afternoon, it was reasonable to expect a few "firsts" from Pittsburgh left-hander Francisco Liriano.
First strikeout? Sure, he had 10 of them, tying a Bucs Opening Day record. First win? Yes, he got that one, too. First run batted in?
"No," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "No, but we know he's a wild card when you send him up there. So we thought we'd let him get a couple whacks at it and see what happened."
What happened was a ground-ball RBI single to right field in the second inning of the Pirates' 4-1 win over the Cardinals. Liriano missed plenty of bats and immediately made an impact with his own in his third straight Opening Day start for the Pirates.
Liriano tied the Pirates' Opening Day record with 10 strikeouts, catching Randal Grichuk looking at a full-count slider to record the first out of the sixth inning. He worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam to finish up a scoreless six-inning outing and earn his first Opening Day win.
"That's the whole thing right there, just get the win," Liriano said. "It's good to get the first one out of the way. ... Pretty happy with it."
The Pirates' Opening Day strikeout record previously was shared by Liriano (2014) and three other pitchers: A.J. Burnett in 2013, John Candelaria in 1983 and Bob Veale in 1965.
Liriano didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning, striking out half of the Cardinals' first 10 men to the plate. His fastball location was superb in the first few innings, and his slider wiped out St. Louis' hitters. When he got into trouble later on, he worked his way out of it.
He struck out Kolten Wong to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fourth and induced an inning-ending groundout to third baseman David Freese in the sixth, thwarting another bases-loaded opportunity for the Cardinals.
"He carves guys up," Freese said. "He's an animal. He's an ace, for sure."
Liriano is also a hitter to be reckoned with, apparently. The man with a career .121 average and 10 RBIs drove in Gregory Polanco for the game's first run.
The last time a pitcher drove in his team's first run of the season was the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw on April 1, 2013.
And no, Liriano didn't expect he'd be the first Major Leaguer to drive in a run in 2016, either.
"Not really," Liriano said. "Just trying to take a good at-bat and put the ball in play in a situation like that. I got a good pitch to hit and got a base hit."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.