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Liriano labors as Bucs' winning season on hold

Lefty allows seven runs; division lead over Cards down to one

MILWAUKEE -- They have waited 20 years, so the Pirates can wait two more days for that elusive 82nd triumph and the winning record it will ensure.

Not that they have a choice, after Francisco Liriano's periodic meltdown teed up a 9-3 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday night.

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MILWAUKEE -- They have waited 20 years, so the Pirates can wait two more days for that elusive 82nd triumph and the winning record it will ensure.

Not that they have a choice, after Francisco Liriano's periodic meltdown teed up a 9-3 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday night.

Full Game Coverage

Following an off-day on Thursday, the Pirates will move on to St. Louis and their final regular-season meeting with the Cardinals, who trail Pittsburgh in the National League Central by one game following their 16-inning win over the Reds on Wednesday. St. Louis will finish its series with third-place Cincinnati on Thursday.

"Just missing my spots, And you have to give credit to the hitters; they were taking pretty good swings," Liriano said after getting chased in three innings with seven runs on the board.

The left-hander continued quite a good news-bad news season. Make no mistake, most of the news has been very good: in 19 of his starts, he has allowed a total of 24 runs; but in three others, he has allowed 21.

"Similar situation," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, comparing Wednesday night's stumble to the previous two. "The inability to maintain his delivery when he rushes, and the fastball and breaking ball stay up, and his fastball command goes wide.

"Every time out, you'd like to see him go seven innings and give up no runs and two hits," added Hurdle, essentially describing what has been a typical outing for Liriano. "But the game balances you, continues to reaffirm the fact he's got to keep working."

Or, quit pitching in the final games of series. The Pirates have lost seven straight of those.

Despite this defeat, the Pirates ended season play with a 12-7 edge over the Brewers, their old tormentors. Before they parted, however, the teams stirred up a bit of the old bad blood, briefly spilling onto the field from the dugouts and the bullpens after Justin Morneau was hit by a Wily Peralta pitch in the fifth inning.

That incident flashed right after Andrew McCutchen had knocked his 19th homer, and second in two nights. That was the Bucs' last move on Peralta -- who went six innings for the win -- and a procession of Milwaukee relievers.

Nothing came of that incident, just as nothing came of the Bucs' desire to make quick work of No. 82 and put undistracted focus on the pennant race.

While he'd been off from the outset in his two prior flat starts, Liriano came out of the gate in style, striking out the first two men in the first inning and retiring the third on a weak fly to left.

Then, a genuine rarity -- a home run off Liriano -- wiped out the Bucs' early 1-0 lead on Jordy Mercer's second-inning RBI single. In the bottom of that inning, Aramis Ramirez led off with a walk and Khris Davis crushed his ninth homer to left-center. The homer was only the sixth allowed in 135 innings by Liriano.

"I just started missing my spots in the second," Liriano said. "I was overthrowing sometimes, too, trying to get more sink on the ball. If your location is good, there's a pretty good chance you'll get better results."

Back came the Pirates, as Marlon Byrd's third-inning single scored Neil Walker, who had singled and wheeled to third on Morneau's double.

But the "other" Liriano showed up bigger in the third. The Brewers took a 7-2 lead with five runs on five hits -- more runs than Liriano has allowed in 19 starts and more hits than he'd given in 11 starts during his overall fabulous 2013 journey. His pitch count also crossed the 70 line, another assurance that he was in for a short night.

"I don't know if it was [Liriano's] location that was off or we were just hitting good pitches, but it was sure nice to see," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I was thinking going into the game if Wily can hold them down enough and we score two or three, maybe we can get it."

"He just couldn't get his delivery back in the stretch," Hurdle said of his ace lefty.

Liriano's night ended with that third -- leaving him still one inning shy of qualifying for inclusion among league leaders. Just as well, considering his ERA climbed from 2.57 to 2.98 with the seven earned runs he gave up in three innings along with seven hits, while walking two and striking out four.

While this was not on the positive side, Liriano (15-7) did maintain his perfect decision score, becoming the first Pittsburgh pitcher to record a decision in each of his first 22 starts of a season since 1930, when southpaw Larry French got a decision in his first 24 starts.

The left-hander's widening home-road splits are something Hurdle will definitely take into consideration if given a chance to align a postseason rotation. Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.21 ERA in PNC Park, while his road numbers skidded to 7-6 and 4.38.

The Brewers added two runs in the seventh off Stolmy Pimentel, who in his Major League debut worked a perfect seventh before Jeff Bianchi's sacrifice fly and Martin Maldonado's RBI single padded Milwaukee's lead to 9-3.

Jason Grilli took over for the Pirates in the eighth, making his first appearance since walking off the Nationals Park mound with a strained forearm on July 22.

"I hope it looked good, because I felt good," Grilli said after making 17 pitches, one of which was slapped into left by Norichika Aoki for the inning's only baserunner. "It's always good to be back on the mound. Main thing is to make sure I'm throwing strikes and commanding the strike zone and my pitches. I did that."

Grilli ended the shutout inning with a pair of strikeouts, clutching and pumping his fists as he walked off the mound. Nobody would deny him that he had that one coming upon completion of his comeback from what had been a scary interruption.

"Definitely more adrenaline here," said Grilli, who would have been pitching in Durham for Indianapolis on Wednesday night had he kept to his original rehab schedule.

The big fish was back in the Shark Tank, fins heading to Missouri.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.


Pittsburgh Pirates, Marlon Byrd, Jeanmar Gomez, Jared Hughes, Francisco Liriano, Andrew McCutchen, Jordy Mercer, Stolmy Pimentel