Someone must have told Garrett Jones this was the biggest series of the season to this point. He hit his 100th career home run, drove in four runs and finished 3-for-4 as the Pittsburgh Pirates took game one of the series on Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-0.
Jones, who has been struggling at the plate started for the first time in four games after sitting the last couple of days and made it count against starter Shelby Miller.
“It was frustrating not getting any hits and not helping the team,” Jones said. “It felt good to get a little break, clear my head mentally and be able to come out here and contribute.”
Starter Francisco Liriano took the mound for Manager Clint Hurdle and pitched a gem in front of a packed house at PNC Park.
The Pirates’ left-hander hurled eight innings, gave up just two hits and two walks while striking out six. He earned his 15th win of the season putting him among the top in the National League with Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmerman.
“He’s a competitor, and he’s gotten himself in a very good position this year,” Hurdle said. “”He’s very determined right now. He had a couple of walks early, but after the third inning he locked down. A couple of balls were hit hard but he was in complete command.”
Liriano threw 18 first-pitch strikes and retired 13 total batters in three pitches or less. Despite throwing over 20 pitches in the first inning, he rallied and needed only 95 total pitches to get through the eight innings.
Offensively, Pittsburgh drew first blood in the first inning when Jones delivered a two-run double to right field, scoring Jose Tabata and Neil Walker.
“We’re always looking to go to the big part of the field, if the ball is away, you bang it that way,” Hurdle said. “Both Tabata and Walker came out of the chute clean, we had a chance to make something happen, Jones started that thing off by getting a ball he could turn on and pull hard.”
The Pirates’ bats returned in the fourth with back-to-back home runs from Jones and Russell Martin to give Pittsburgh a 4-0 lead.
“”I know [Miller] has a good fastball and I just tried to get ready and see it over the plate, so I got some good pitches tonight and I just put some good swings on them,” Jones said.
Miller lasted only 4 1/3 innings, surrendered five runs (four earned) on eights hits, walked three and struck out three. Miller labored early in the game, allowing the Pirates to get into the Cardinals’ bullpen.
All the pieces of a fundamentally sound victory came together for Pittsburgh with great pitching, timely hitting and solid defense.
“Tonight was not just about me, we played great defense tonight,” Liriano said. “We went out there ready to play tonight and everything went the way we wanted it to.”
It was nothing short of a playoff atmosphere in the city of Pittsburgh as the team collected their Major League-best 15th shutout of the season.
With the win, the Pirates and Cardinals are once again tied for first place in the National League Central.
“We’ve been pretty consistent all year with our approach,” Jones said. “We’ve been having fun, staying loose and all of the fans make it that much more enjoyable,”
The two teams will tussle Saturday for sole possession of first place. AJ Burnett will face Lance Lynn in Game 2 of the three-game set.