The Pirates scored the first win in a pivotal series Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals, led by a player who essentially was benched earlier this week.
Garrett Jones drove in four runs and hit his 100th career homer, powering the Pirates past the Cardinals, 5-0, at PNC Park.
Francisco Liriano helped, pitching eight shutout innings to pick up his 15th win this season, a career high.
With the win, the Pirates (78-56) pulled into a tie with the Cardinals (78-56) for first place in the National League Central Division. Both teams have 28 games remaining, including five against one another.
"We beat the Cardinals, in the first game of a series. It always feels special," said catcher Russell Martin, who hit the second of back-to-back homers with Jones in the fourth.
It was Jones' first start since Sunday, as manager Clint Hurdle wanted the first baseman to take a break to work through some struggles.
"We're not unplugging anybody, but we thought a couple, three days down could help," Hurdle said.
For one night, anyway, it did.
Jones went 3 for 4, driving in runs in the first, fourth and fifth.
All but two of Jones' 100 career homers have come with the Pirates. But only 13 have come in a disappointing season for the first baseman, who typically platoons first base with Gaby Sanchez.
But his August struggles -- he entered Friday with a .119 batting average and just four RBIs this month -- caused Hurdle to start Sanchez twice this week against a right-handed pitcher.
"At first, it's frustrating," Jones said of the time off. "You want to stay out there, you want to keep playing. But, at the same time, Gaby was swinging a great bat, and I wasn't doing much at the plate. Winning is the most important thing."
He spent his time down watching video, taking swings in the cage and talking to coaches and teammates about all topics baseball and otherwise.
"Marlon Byrd, when he first got up here, he came up to me and said, 'You could be a guy that could hit 30, 40 home runs,' " Jones said. "We started talking about hitting, and just a few things he said to me made a lot of sense."
Specifically, Jones said Byrd gave him a couple pointers about getting extension on his swing.
"It just feels good knowing you worked to try to fix something to mentally and physically feel good up there," he said.
The Pirates continued to terrorize Cardinals rookie pitcher Shelby Miller (12-9), who has been nothing short of excellent this season except against the Pirates. Miller has lost all four of his outings against the Pirates and was battered around Friday night.
He allowed five earned runs on eight hits in 41/3 innings. He struck out three and walked three, including two to Liriano, who has walked three times in his career.
Jones, in particular, has tormented Miller, which is a big reason why he started Friday night. He entered the game 4 for 7 against Miller this year and quickly reminded the right-hander of those skewed splits. He hit a two-run double in the first, a homer in the fourth and an RBI single in the fifth.
His big night certainly made an impact on the sellout crowd at PNC Park, which applauded the first baseman after he struck out in the seventh, his first recorded out of the night.
Meanwhile, Liriano shredded one of baseball's best lineups to pick up his third win in as many starts against the Cardinals this season. He allowed two hits and struck out six and walked two in eight innings.
"He looked like he was in complete control," Martin said. "When he's got command of his fastball, everything else works off that. His fastball direction was there, so we worked the changeup off that, the slider off that.
"It was real easy to work with. I could've called any pitch at any time. and he would've made it work."
He continues to be an effective stopper for the Pirates. Following a loss this year, Liriano is 8-2 with 75 strikeouts and a 1.26 ERA.
That this win helped put the Pirates in first place didn't add any significance to Liriano.
"There's still a long way to go," he said.breaking - pirates
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 31, 2013 1:45 AM