Francisco Liriano overcame 11 rotten starts and, perhaps, a smidge of self-doubt Friday and helped steer the Pirates to a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It's a great feeling,” Liriano said. “It feels like it's been a long time.”
Liriano went into the game burdened by a winless record and a 5.06 ERA. During a closed-door meeting, manager Clint Hurdle tried to prop up his beleaguered left-hander.
“I told him: ‘You're healthy. You've thrown sequences of pitches. You haven't lost velocity. These are the things that are still in play,' ” Hurdle said. “It's not like this guy is trying to stay alive in the major leagues. He's gonna have a job next year. He's gonna have a contract, and it's going to be (sizable).”
Liriano's $7 million deal with the Pirates is up after this season, but that's a concern for another day. For now, Liriano just wants to win games.
“With his makeup, the way he works and everything, I told him to just continue to push through this,” Hurdle said later. “And I believe he will.”
Liriano (1-5) went 5.2 scoreless innings. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out eight.
Liriano's defining moment came in the bottom of the fifth inning with the Pirates clinging to a 2-0 lead.
Chone Figgins hit five fouls in an 11-pitch at-bat before finally drawing a walk. With the bases loaded and two outs, Liriano faced Yasiel Puig.
Although about half of his pitches to Figgins were sliders, Liriano had relied heavily on his changeup to that point. Against Puig, who went into the game batting .410 in May, Liriano went back to the changeup.
“That's the ballgame right there,” catcher Russell Martin said. “But the thing is, he wasn't going to give in to Puig. He wasn't going to give him anything. We weren't going to challenge him with a fastball down the middle. We were going to challenge him with our pitch, what we thought he wasn't looking for.”
Puig swung through a changeup to even the count 2-2. Liriano came back with another, and Puig popped out to second baseman Neil Walker.
If Figgins had been at the plate, he might have dinked that changeup into the outfield for a single. Puig, however, wasn't searching for a single; he wanted to knock the ball to Pasadena.
Puig took a big, aggressive swing — and played right into Liriano's hands.
“The changeup was working down,” Liriano said. “I went one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time.”
Liriano joined the no-hitter club three years ago when he was with the Minnesota Twins. On Friday, he outdueled that exclusive group's newest member.
In his previous start, Dodgers righty Josh Beckett no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the Dodgers' MLB-leading 21st no-no and their 11th since the franchise moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Hurdle said Beckett's historic outing might have given the Pirates a small edge during their pregame film study.
“We're not going to plan against him any differently than we would have, other than the fact we got to see a lot of pitches in that last game,” Hurdle said. “He threw (128) pitches. He threw 40 curveballs. We got to see his entire repertoire.”
Beckett lasted five innings against the Pirates and allowed two runs, five hits, one walk and one hit batter.
Beckett threw a 1-2-3 first inning, With one out in the second, Russell Martin lined a single into center field.
Somewhere, Johnny Vander Meer was smiling. In 1938, Vander Meer, a Cincinnati Reds left-hander, tossed no-hitters in back-to-back starts. Nobody's done it since.
In a slightly bizarre third inning, the Pirates took a 1-0 lead.