Liriano dominates, Pirates beat Cubs 4-0 for 8th win in row

Liriano dominates, Pirates beat Cubs 4-0 for 8th win in row
Pittsburgh Pirates starter Francisco Liriano throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO (AP) – The Pittsburgh Pirates are doing exactly what they hoped to do against the Chicago Cubs.

Now they are eyeing St. Louis, with a big series coming up against the Cardinals.

“We have to continue to play the way we’re playing right now,” Francisco Liriano said. “We’re not done yet.”

Liriano pitched four-hit ball into the eighth inning Saturday, and the Pirates beat the playoff-bound Cubs 4-0 for their eighth straight victory.

Liriano (12-7) struck out nine, giving him 200 on the year, and walked three over 7 2-3 innings. Jordy Mercer had a three-run homer off Jason Hammel (9-7), and the Pirates picked up their 95th victory, their highest total since 1992.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that everybody who plays the game wants to play their best baseball at the end,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s something we talk about organizationally.”

Pittsburgh leads Chicago by 51/2 games for the top wild card with a chance to complete a weekend sweep on Sunday. The Pirates then open a three-game series Monday against St. Louis, the team they trailed by three games for the NL Central lead when the day began.

Despite the loss, the Cubs had plenty to celebrate Saturday. They secured their first playoff appearance since 2008 Friday night when Oakland beat San Francisco, after enduring five straight losing seasons and a major overhaul under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Fans cheered a pregame video tribute and players tipped their caps. The Cubs really cut loose after the game.

The smell of sparkling wine and the blaring music were impossible to miss in the clubhouse afterward.

Players and coaches went back onto the field and doused each other. Fans chanted “Thank you, Tom! Thank you, Tom!” at a drenched chairman Tom Ricketts.

The last to leave the field was manager Joe Maddon, wearing a 2015 postseason cap and a towel draped around his neck. He waved to fans chanting “Joe! Joe! Joe!” as he exited.

“Our guys deserve this,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “And frankly, it would have been out of personality not to celebrate in a big way despite the circumstances. They deserve it. I’m proud of them.”

Liriano improved to 8-1 in his last 16 starts – all but one wins for the Pirates.

He left with runners on first and second after walking Kris Bryant with two outs in the eighth. Antonio Bastardo then retired Anthony Rizzo on a flyball, and the Cubs were shut out for the 10th time.

Hammel allowed three runs and seven hits over four-plus innings. He exited after giving up five consecutive hits to start the fifth, and the Pirates sent nine batters to the plate in the inning.

The big blow was Mercer’s three-run drive to left – his third homer – after Francisco Cervelli and Pedro Alvarez opened it with singles. Two more singles by Liriano and Starling Marte chased Hammel, but Pittsburgh wasted a big opportunity to add to the lead.

Justin Grimm walked Andrew McCutchen with one out to load the bases. Trevor Cahill then retired Aramis Ramirez on a shallow fly to right and struck out Neil Walker, who tossed his bat after missing a 3-2 pitch.

Sean Rodriguez added an RBI double off Tommy Hunter in the eighth, making it 4-0.

“Give them credit,” Maddon said. “They came to play, we came to play. They won. Let’s show up again tomorrow.”

NOTABLE
Mercer’s previous two homers were solo drives June 2-3 at San Francisco. … Kris Bryant had two hits for Chicago, including his 31st double – tops among major league rookies.

TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: RF Gregory Polanco was held out of the lineup. He had been bothered lately by a knee problem, although manager Clint Hurdle indicated it was just a day of rest.

UP NEXT
Pirates: A.J. Burnett (9-5, 3.15 ERA) looks to build on a win over Colorado as the Pirates wrap up their three-game series against Chicago.

Cubs: Tops in the majors in wins, Jake Arrieta (20-6, 1.88) tries to become the first Cubs pitcher with more than 20 since Fergie Jenkins went 24-13 in 1971.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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