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Francisco Liriano strikes out 10 in Pittsburgh Pirates' win

By
John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) throws a pitch in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, on April 3, 2016. Photo by Shelley Lipton/UPI
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) throws a pitch in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, on April 3, 2016. Photo by Shelley Lipton/UPI | License Photo

PITTSBURGH -- Even though he was making his third consecutive Opening Day start, Francisco Liriano admitted to feeling a few butterflies in his stomach as he took the mound Sunday.

"You're always a little nervous, a little anxious, a little excited," Liriano said. "Then you just have to relax and have some fun."

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The Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander had plenty of fun as he struck out 10 in six scoreless innings and also drove in the game's first run as the Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 on Sunday in the first game of the 2016 major-league season.

Liriano (1-0) tied the franchise record for strikeouts on Opening Day while allowing three hits and walking five. The left-hander also had 10 strikeouts against the Chicago Cubs in the 2014 season opener to join a list that includes Bob Veale (1965), John Candelaria (1983) and A.J. Burnett (2013).

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"His stuff is always nasty but it was really nasty today," Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "He hides the ball so well that it makes it so hard to pick up his pitches. That's why he's one of the toughest pitchers to hit -- and one of the toughest to catch, too."

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That Liriano was the first winning pitcher of the season wasn't a surprise as he improved to 6-2 lifetime against the Cardinals. However, no one could have expected him to have the first RBI of 2016 with a single during a two-run second inning.

"He can surprise you sometimes," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano, a .125 lifetime hitter. "That's why we turn him loose once in a while."

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After Liriano's drove in Gregory Polanco, who led off the second with a double, John Jaso followed with an RBI single.

The Cardinals threatened in the ninth when Matt Carpenter hit an RBI single with two outs off Mark Melancon, who led the major leagues with 51 saves last season, to draw within three runs. Matt Adams then hit a game-ending popup with runners at second and third.

The Cardinals left 10 runners on base, including eight against Liriano.

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"Missed opportunities," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We had guys in scoring position with less than two outs more than once and that's something we take a lot of pride in figuring out how to get it done. It just didn't happen today."

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Cervelli and Jordy Mercer each had two of the Pirates' nine hits. Cerveill tripled and scored on Josh Harrison's sacrifice fly in the sixth, and Mercer doubled in a run in the eighth.

Adam Wainwright (0-1) took the loss while starting the opener for the Cardinals for the fifth consecutive season. He allowed three runs and six hits in six innings with three walks and three strikeouts.

"When you pitch against a quality pitcher like Liriano you've got to have your stuff rolling," Wainwright said. "I was the definition of average today, which is the opposite of what I expect to be."

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina had two hits in his 12th consecutive Opening Day start, the third-longest streak in franchise history behind Hall of Famers Stan Musial (18) and Lou Brock (15).

The National League Central rivals had the two best regular-season records in the major leagues last season, the Cardinals going 100-62 and the Pirates finishing 98-64.

"It was a good, clean game on our part," Hurdle said. "Good way to start the season."

NOTES: Cardinals LF Tommy Pham left the game in the bottom of the second inning with tightness in his left oblique muscle and was scheduled to have an MRI following the game. ... OF/1B Matt Holliday started at first base, the first appearance at the positon by the 36-year-old in his 13-year career. But he moved back to his familiar left-field spot to replace Pham. ... Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery) was placed on the 60-day disabled list while C Brayan Pena (loose bodies in left knee), RHP Mitch Harris (sore right arm), RHP Jordan Walden (right shoulder strain), SS Miguel Tejada (right quadriceps strain) and SS Jhonny Peralta (torn left thumb ligament) were placed on the 15-day DL. C Eric Fryer had his contract selected from Triple-A Memphis and RHP Jayson Aquino was designated for assignment. ... Pirates INF Cole Figueroa won the final spot on the roster as his contract was selected from Triple-A Indianapolis along with those of LHP Corey Luebke and OF Matt Joyce. INF Jason Rogers was optioned to Indianapolis while RHP John Holdzkom, INF Pedro Florimon and INF Jake Goebbert were designated for assignment. C Elias Diaz (strained right elbow), RHP Jared Hughes (strained left lat) and 3B Jung Ho Kang (torn left knee ligament) were placed on the 15-day disabled list. ... The three-game series continues Tuesday night after an off day Monday with Cardinals RHP Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38 ERA last season) facing Pirates LHP Jonathon Niese (9-10, 4.13).

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