Stewart's go-ahead knock, Marte's double seal win
Liriano unable to factor in winning decision for 12th straight start
MILWAUKEE -- Chris Stewart saw what he needed to deliver the game's biggest hit Wednesday in a 4-1 Pirates victory over the Brewers at Miller Park. What he saw Tuesday may have played a role.
Facing Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez -- who came into the outing having allowed just one run all season -- Stewart lined a bullet into center field that plated the go-ahead run and broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth. In advance of his first RBI of the season, Stewart gleaned a wealth of knowledge from the nine-pitch at-bat he endured against Rodriguez one night earlier, one that ultimately ended in a groundout during the Pirates 5-2 loss.
"Obviously, he's got pretty good stuff," Stewart said. "I saw quite a few pitches from him last night, so that helped going into the at-bat tonight. He stayed away from me last night, so that gave me a read of what he was going to try to do in that situation. The first pitch was borderline, the next pitch I was just a little late on, just trying to see if it was an offspeed pitch. The next pitch was the same approach, and fortunately he just left it up for me and I got a decent swing and hit it to the right spot."
The base hit scored pinch-runner Clint Barmes from second base easily. Starling Marte, who started the game on the bench as he continued to nurse back tightness, followed with a two-run double that all but iced the outcome, and the Pirates defeated the Brewers for the second time this season in nine tries.
Rodriguez (1-1) came into the tie game with a 0.43 ERA, but he was working in his team's fourth straight game. When Gaby Sanchez delivered a two-out RBI double in the eighth on Tuesday, the ninth turned into a save situation, and Rodriguez threw 20 pitches in the 1-2-3 frame.
"I'm never surprised when our guys have success," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was a pitch up in the zone, it might not have been as executed as Rodriguez wanted it to be, but he put a good swing on it. The two guys in front of him got on, or nobody drives in anybody. It was a big inning for us to string together four straight hits. Scoring the second run last night, they use Rodriguez, he throws 20 pitches and has to come back in tonight. You never know how it plays out."
Stewart also served behind the dish for Francisco Liriano, who left without a victory for the 12th straight outing but still delivered six excellent innings in his fifth consecutive no-decision -- all victories for the team. The Pirates are 7-5 in those 12 ballgames.
"He got some situations where he had runners in scoring position, and he made some pitches to get out of some big situations," Stewart said. "The changeup was real good tonight, the backdoor slider was working well. It sounds kind of funny, but he mixed in his fastball enough to keep them off balance. I thought he went out and did a tremendous job for us."
Instead, reliever Tony Watson (4-0) worked through Milwaukee's 2-5 hitters in the eighth and came away with the victory. He's now the team leader in that department and boasts a 1.50 ERA.
Liriano allowed only one run on four hits in six innings but departed after 87 pitches. He had seven strikeouts and issued just one walk.
"I had a feeling if we could get him clean through six, that's the way we were going to cut it the rest of the game," Hurdle said of the hook after six frames. "You saw much better command tonight, pitch efficiency, swing-and-miss, all of it."
Marte's insurance was a nice bonus. Hurdle said he knew a half hour before the game that the outfielder would be available off the bench after missing the preceding two games with the back ailment that flared up over the weekend. Marte took batting practice for the first time before Wednesday's game.
"After he had hit, done all his work, hit in the cage, ran, took balls in the outfield, did all the different stuff, he got to the point where he came in and felt he was good to go," Hurdle said.
Marte entered in the eighth and struck out as a pinch-hitter but stayed in the game to play left field. His fly ball to the warning track plated Jordy Mercer -- whose single gave him a five-game hitting streak -- and Stewart, leaving closer Mark Melancon with an easier path to his fifth save.
The Pirates struck first after Liriano and Brewers starter Wily Peralta dueled to a scoreless draw through three innings, allowing a combined three baserunners in that stretch. Andrew McCutchen led off the fourth with a walk, moved to third with nobody out on a Pedro Alvarez single and scored on an RBI fielder's choice groundout from Jose Tabata.
Milwaukee tied the score at 1-1 in the fifth, with shaky defense aiding the cause. Khris Davis hit a sharp leadoff shot down the third-base line and took second when Tabata initially dropped the ball, a hit that was ruled a double. When Liriano was late covering first base on a grounder, the Brewers put runners at the corners with nobody out and plated a tying run on a Jeff Bianchi sacrifice fly.
Peralta allowed one run on five hits in seven innings, with four punchouts and a walk. He also left with a no-decision when he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh, when Bryan Morris stranded a runner at third base to keep the game locked at 1-1.
"When you face those kind of pitchers, you know it's going to be a close game," said Peralta, whose ERA dipped to 2.05 after the outing. "He was on top of his game tonight. He was really good. Command of his pitches and throwing a great changeup."
Liriano entered the night 2-4 with a 7.22 ERA in seven appearances at Miller Park.
"This is the first time I've had a good game [here]," Liriano said. "I've been pitching here since '09, so I was not trying to think about it, but it was in the back of my head. I was just trying to stay calm and not try to do too much and execute my pitches. … Opening Day, I had pretty good command of the fastball and changeup and everything. The last couple games, I just made a couple mistakes and missed my spots sometimes."
Liriano and Hurdle both agreed fastball command allowed the left-hander to set up the rest of his arsenal.
"I expect the best is yet to come for Frank; that's just what I believe," Hurdle said. "It's the time of the year for him where he normally makes his move. The swing-and-miss, all the pitches were there with the command. The fastball command sets it all."