Bob Smizik: Jones comes alive -- for now

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It was only one game and counts no more than any other.

But what a lift this victory was for the Pirates. It wasn't so much that they beat the St. Louis Cardinals -- they've been pretty much doing that all season -- and moved into a tie for first place, It was how they did it.

First and foremost it was Garrett Jones. Bashed and trashed, and deservedly so, by one and all in recent weeks, Jones awoke from a prodigious slump and singlehandedly put a beating on the Cardinals in a 5-0 win last night at PNC Park.

Jones had a home run, three hits and four RBIs. It was his first three-hit game since May. His first game with four or more RBIs since last August. And it came after he had not started the three previous games, twice against right-handed pitching.

His bases-loaded double in the first was the big hit in the game because it came just when it looked like St. Louis starter Shelby Miller was pitching himself out of a mess. The Pirates opened the game with a single by Jose Tabata and a double by Neil Walker. But Miller struck out Andrew McCutchen, and after hitting Pedro Alvarez, struck out Marlon Bryd.

Up came Jones who wishes he had been hitting his weight in the month of August. In fact, he'd been hitting about half his weight. His double scored Tabata and Walker and that's all Francisco Liriano would need.

But Jones came back with a fourth-inning home run, which proceeded one by Russell Martin, and a fifth-inning single that scored Bryd, who had doubled.

For Liriano, it was another performance that inspires hope he can carry the Pirates in the postseason. He pitched eight innings and allowed two hits and two walks while striking out six. He did not allow a runner to second base.

In three starts this season against St. Louis, the top offense in the National League, Liriano has pitched 24 innings, allowed two earned runs (0.75 ERA), 10 hits, and five walks while striking out 20. Liriano gives every indication he's capable of being a postseason horse.

It would help the Pirates immeasurably if Jones could begin performing in something approaching that level. The Pirates have difficulty with right-handed pitching this season. They are 12th in the league in OPS vs. RHP at .695. They are first vs. LHP at .744.

Jones is a big key to the team's success against right-handers. Last year he was 14th in the league against them with an .888 OPS. This year he is 55th at .730.

Something approaching the return of the 2012 Jones would be a huge lift for the Pirates.

A word of caution: Jones previous two home runs, Aug. 14 and Aug. 22 were followed by long periods of no production. Maybe this performance will kickstart Jones, but there are no guarantees.

Meanwhile, the Pirates are back in first place, which only shines a brighter light on the final two games of this series tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

A.J. Burnett pitches against Lance Lynn tonight. On Sunday, the Pirates have yet to announce who will pitch against St. Louis rookie Tyler Lyons. It likely will be Kris Johnson.



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