When it's breaking like it did Tuesday, Francisco Liriano's slider can devastate.
Add in the changeup and fastball, and he can render a team defenseless.
Liriano delivered Tuesday night on the biggest stage the Pirates have stood on in 20 years, the lights of the city draped behind his shoulders and more than 40,000 wedged into PNC Park.
"It was amazing. Not just for me, but the whole city of Pittsburgh. They wanted it so bad. It was a great game and a great feeling," Liriano said.
His slider twice made mince meat of first baseman Joey Votto, who struck out in the fourth and sixth, the second time chasing three pitches in a row.
By the game's end, Liriano secured the first postseason win of his career by stifling the Reds and the Pirates were headed for the National League Divisional Series against St. Louis.
"Frankie was tremendous tonight," said pitching coach Ray Searage. "Then the changeup came into play later. He just had them stymied. Once he got through the first innings, he was able to spot, his fastball had some nice little feel on it."
Liriano went seven innings and gave up four hits and one earned run. He walked one and struck out five. Of his 90 pitches, 64 were strikes, and he had 13 groundouts.
"Everything was down like I wanted today, down in the zone," he said.
With the exception of Ryan Ludwick, who hit a single and double, Liriano neutralized the heart of the Reds order: Shin-Soo Choo was 1 for 3, Votto 0 for 4, Brandon Phillips 0 for 4 and Jay Bruce 1 for 4.
"When you can neutralize Choo, Votto and Bruce, you're going to have a chance to win," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "When you can set down those guys and keep them off balance, it obviously plays well for you."
Liriano retired nine consecutive batters to open the game and threw just 28 pitches by the end of the third inning, 23 for strikes.
He started strong, throwing just nine pitches in the first, seven for strikes. Through two, it was 21 pitches, 17 for strikes and 8 swings-and-misses.
"After he got through that first inning, I think the jitters kind of calmed down and he was able to get in a rhythm," said catcher Russell Martin. "As soon as he got those first three outs, I felt like it was going to be a good day."
Neil Walker agreed: "It's hard to slow yourself down the first couple innings, but Frankie goes out there and strikes out the first batter of the game, it kind of slows things down for you. It makes things a lot easier."
The efficiency waned somewhat by the fourth, when Liriano hit Choo to start the inning, then gave up a grounder to Ludwick.
Bruce hit a two-out single to score Choo, but Todd Frazier struck out to end the inning.
In the sixth, Liriano struck out Votto on his slider and Searage smiled from the dugout.
"Votto had no chance. Had no chance," Searage said.
Heading into the game, Liriano had pitched in just two postseason appearances -- both with Minnesota, both against the Yankees and only one was a start.
He pitched two innings of relief in Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS, then started Game 1 in 2010, going 52/3 innings with six hits and four earned runs. He entered Tuesday with an 0-1 postseason record.
Searage said the plan was for Liriano to establish his command early
"We were hoping he would find his rhythm quickly. Once he finds his rhythm quickly, he's able to do that," Searage said. "Once I saw the second hitter, the slider and changeup, I was like ... he's on."
The stadium chanted his name in the bottom of the seventh when Travis Snider pinch hit for him.
At the plate, Liriano singled and had a sacrifice bunt in the fifth that moved Clint Barmes to second.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published October 2, 2013 6:30 AM