The criticisms of Clint Hurdle are flying already and this time after a 3-2 Pirates' win over the Chicago Cubs today at PNC Park.
The charge against Hurdle, not without some merit, is that he left his starting pitcher in the game too long. Not even the fact the starting pitcher took a no-hitter into the seventh inning will diminish this criticism.
As stated, there is some merit to it. But let's remember the pitcher in question, Francisco Liriano, is the team's top winner, and the pitcher, if rested, most likely to open the postseason. Let me say this again: He was pitching a no-hitter.
Let's also remember that just the night before when the first two runners got on base against Gerrit Cole, who was not pitching a no-hitter, in the seventh inning, Hurdle stuck with him, and this particular vote of confidence proved to be warranted.
No question, Liriano showed signs of weakening in the sixth, when he walked two -- but he had not allowed a hit.
Turns out, Hurdle's decision was costly, but not too costly.
Liriano took the mound in the seventh having thrown 99 pitches and leading, 2-0. On his first pitch of the inning, Junior Lake broke up the no-hitter with a sharply hit ball that was kept in the infield only by an outstanding play deep in the hole by shortstop Jordy Mercer.
Liriano threw ball one to Welington Castillo, who then jumped on the second pitch for a game-tying home run to left center. When Darnell McDonald followed with a single, Liriano was gone for the day with a no-decision.
The bullpen, Bryan Morris, Kyle Farnsworth and Mark Melancon was near flawless -- no runs, no hits, one walk in three innings. The Pirates won the game in the eighth on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Justin Morneau, which followed Andrew McCutchen being hit by a pitch and a bloop single by Marlon Byrd.
In Hurdle's defense, how many were ready to jump him for his use of the much-criticized Morris with a runner on in a tie game in the seventh? That decision worked. If Morris had surrendered additional runs, Hurdle would be receiving a double jolt of criticism.
As for his decision on Liriano, it's easy to second-guess. For myself, I had no problem with him sending Liriano out to start the seventh. Beyond the no-hitter, he had the lead and has been the team's best pitcher. But criticism is valid, too. This is part of what makes baseball such a great game.