Such is the game of baseball, and occasionally the state of the Pirates offense, that a game in which Francisco Liriano took a no-hitter into the seventh inning came down to a broken-bat, pinch-hit single.
Liriano will take it. Justin Morneau, whose eighth-inning hit gave the Pirates a 3-2 win Sunday against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park, will take it as well.
"It's nice to be able to contribute to a win [Sunday] after Liriano threw the ball so well," Morneau said.
The Pirates took three of four games from the Cubs in the series, the first of three series in their final homestand of the season. After losing four in a row, the Pirates have won six of seven and reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to six.
The game hinged in the eighth, when Cubs reliever Pedro Strop hit Andrew McCutchen and allowed a single to Marlon Byrd with the score tied at 2-2. The Cubs had no one warming up behind right-handed Strop, so left-handed Morneau, who started the day on the bench against left-handed Cubs starter Travis Wood, pinch-hit for Gaby Sanchez.
"You pay attention see who's getting loose, see who's warming up," Morneau said. "That's their eighth-inning guy, I think he's been throwing the ball great."
Morneau and Strop, both former American Leaguers recently traded to the National League, had faced each other before, but Morneau said facing Strop Friday kept his arsenal fresh in the mind.
"You can watch all the video you want, but until you see it live with your own eyes, you don't have a lot of information," Morneau said.
Strop started Morneau with a 98-mph fastball. Morneau broke his bat, but poked it into left field, giving McCutchen plenty of time to score from second.
Jose Tabata tripled and scored in the first and Tony Sanchez homered in the fourth. The Pirates converted only one run in the first after they had three hits to start the inning. Pedro Alvarez left six runners on base, including grounding out with the bases loaded in the third.
Liriano exited the game almost immediately after the Cubs ended his no-hit bid. In six-plus innings he allowed two runs on three hits, walking four and striking out four. Liriano received a no-decision for the first time in 24 starts this season.
"He was on the edges and then just off of them," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The pitch count got probably a little higher than he wanted it to, but he was able to get outs."
Liriano left the ballpark without speaking to reporters.
Liriano didn't allow a batter past first for the first five innings. He walked Darwin Barney in the first and Starlin Castro in the third, but they both were stranded at first.
Liriano walked Wood to lead off the sixth. After retiring Castro, Liriano walked Barney for the second time. Anthony Rizzo grounded into a forceout to put runners on the corners, but Donnie Murphy did the same thing to end the inning. Liriano finished the sixth inning at 99 pitches.
"The question was put to him like it's been put to him numerous times this year," Hurdle said. "How do you feel? Without blinking an eye he said, 'I'm good to go.' First time he hasn't been able to convert on a 'good to go.' "
Liriano came out for the seventh and allowed a leadoff single to Junior Lake. Jordy Mercer dived for the ball and gloved it, but had no play at first.
Welington Castillo homered two pitches later to tie the score. After Darnell McDonald's single, Liriano was done. Bryan Morris relieved him and preserved the tie.
Hurdle may not have left Liriano in even if he continued his no-hit bid.
"I think there would have had to be heavy conversation if he gets through the seventh and where he ends up there," Hurdle said. "I think he's a pro. He understands. It's probably not in anybody's best interests for him to throw 130 pitches Sept. 15."
Kyle Farnsworth got the win and Mark Melancon earned his 16th save.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 15, 2013 8:30 PM