PITTSBURGH — Clint Hurdle grabbed the brim of his cap and ducked his head. When pressed about what pleased him the most about Pittsburgh’s 9-2 win over St. Louis on Monday, a romp that propelled the resilient Pirates within a half-game of the NL Central lead, the manager thought for a moment and sighed.
“Getting a little picky aren’t we?” he asked with a smile.
Hurdle isn’t. Neither is his team as it tries to shrug off two decades of misery and mediocrity.
Francisco Liriano allowed one run over seven dominant innings, Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 27th home run and the Pirates kicked off a pivotal series by sending the Cardinals to their season-high fourth straight loss.
Liriano (11-4) continued his midcareer renaissance by striking out eight and walking just two to win his fifth consecutive start.
“It’s been a good run for him being able to watch, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing,” Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “I don’t get a lot of action when he’s on the mound. It makes it a lot easier for the defense.”
Having some help from an underachieving offense helps. The Pirates came in hitting just .221 with runners in scoring position, the worst mark in baseball. Clint Barmes smacked two doubles and drove in two runs and McCutchen added two hits as Pittsburgh went 5 for 13 with runners on second or third to continue its mastery over St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook.
The veteran right-hander fell to 1-8 against Pittsburgh in his otherwise solid resume. The Pirates touched Westbrook (7-5) for four runs in the first inning, capped by Alvarez’s three-run homer into the first row of seats in right field.
“It was a battle from pitch 1 -- and it showed early on,” Westbrook said. “It’s not really how you draw it up with a walk and a hit batsmen and a single and a homer. Put us in a bad spot against a good team and against a guy who’s throwing the ball really well.”