Morneau trade pays dividends as Pirates win

John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- After a difficult first two weeks with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Justin Morneau got a chance to be the hero Sunday.
Morneau's RBI single as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning lifted the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the finale of a four-game series at PNC Park.
The Pirates took three of four in the series and won for the sixth time in their last seven games. They stayed tied with St. Louis for the National League Central lead as the Cardinals beat the Seattle Mariners 12-2.
With the score 2-2 in the eight, Andrew McCutchen was hit by a pitch by Pedro Strop (2-2). He took second on Marlon Byrd's bloop single to center field.
Morneau then hit an opposite-field single to left to score McCutchen with the winning run on a day when Pirates starter Francisco Liriano carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning but wound up not factoring in the decision for the first time in his 25 starts this season.
It was Morneau's first RBI in 14 games with the Pirates since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins in an Aug. 31 trade.
"It was perfect timing, that's for sure," Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP, said with a smile. "I wish it would have happened a week-and-a-half ago but I'm glad it happened when it did. It's just nice to contribute. You want to come to a new team and do your part to help win games.
"It's funny how things turn out in this game. You hit some balls hard and have nothing to show for it then I get a broken-bat hit that ends being the game-winner."
Kyle Farnsworth (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win. Mark Melancon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save in 18 opportunities.
Liriano lost his no-hitter when leadoff hitter Junior Lake singled into the hole between third base and shortstop. Shortstop Jordy Mercer made a diving effort and stopped the ball on the outfield grass but Lake easily beat the throw.
Welington Castillo followed with a two-run home run into the left-center field bleachers that tied the game at 2-all. It was his seventh homer of the season and snapped Liriano's streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings at PNC Park.
Darnell McDonald then singled to chase Liriano but Bryan Morris relieved and escaped further damage as the Cubs lost for the fourth time in five games.
Liriano struggled to get through the sixth inning as he walked two and his pitch count reached 99. However, Liriano told Hurdle he wanted to keep going and try for his second career no-hitter.
"We've asked him a dozen times this year -- how do you feel? Are you good to go or not?" Hurdle said. "He's always honest. Without blinking an eye, he said he could still pitch and it was the first time all year that he wasn't able to convert on a good to go. He wasn't tired or anything. He just wasn't able to make pitches."
Liriano wound up allowing two runs and three hits in six-plus innings while walking four and striking out four. He had won each of his previous three starts against the Cubs this season, allowing only two runs in 23 innings for a 0.78 ERA.
Liriano was not available for comment after the game.
"You knew it was going to be tough and that's how you score against Liriano -- you get somebody on and pop a home run," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.
Chicago starter Travis Wood also allowed two runs in six innings. The Pirates got five hits off Wood, who had two walks and four strikeouts.
The Pirates struck quickly against Wood as Jose Tabata led off the first inning with a triple and scored on a wild pitch.
Rookie catcher Tony Sanchez hit his second home run in the fourth inning to make it 2-0.
Byrd had two hits.
"They had a game plan and they came out hacking," Wood said. "Fortunately I was able to limit the damage but two runs is a lot when you're facing a guy like Liriano. We were lucky to get a couple of runs off him with the way he was throwing."
NOTES: Pittsburgh LF Starling Marte, who has not had a plate appearance since Aug. 18 because of a bruised right hand, will take live batting practice Monday and could be in the lineup Tuesday against the San Diego Padres. ... Chicago RHP Scott Baker will make his final start of the season Friday against Atlanta. Sveum has decided not to tinker with his six-man rotation, even though Baker has allowed only one run, five hits and one walk in 11 innings in his first two starts since returning from elbow ligament reconstruction surgery. ... The Pirates open a four-game home series Monday night against San Diego while the Cubs open a four-game series at Milwaukee against the Brewers. Pirates RHP A.J. Burnett will start against Padres RHP Andrew Cashner (9-8, 3.40). Chicago RHP Edwin Jackson (8-15, 4.76) faces Milwaukee RHP Wily Peralta (9-15, 4.49).