PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jake Westbrook's struggles against the Pittsburgh Pirates have veered from statistical curiosity to something more troubling for the veteran right-hander and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Pirates roughed up Westbrook again in a 9-2 loss on Monday night to pull within a half-game of the Cardinals for the lead in the NL Central. Westbrook (7-5) fell to 1-8 against Pittsburgh in his otherwise solid career after the Pirates jumped on him for four runs in the first.
"Can't explain it," Westbrook said.
Neither can manager Mike Matheny, though Matheny is just as concerned about the way baseball's best offensive team has disappeared during a season-high four-game losing streak. The Cardinals have scored just five runs over the last 36 innings.
"You're going to have times like this in a season," Matheny said. "You've just got to keep your head down and keep going and realize that over the long haul guys have done a real nice job producing offensively. That will be back."
Not having to face Francisco Liriano will help. Liriano (11-4) continued his resurgence by limiting the Cardinals to four hits over seven innings, walking two and striking out eight to win his fifth consecutive start.
"I've given a lot of credit to pitching lately, and frankly I'm just tired of doing that," Matheny said. "Liriano threw the ball well again today and we knew he would."
Clint Barmes doubled twice and drove in two runs for Pittsburgh. Andrew McCutchen added two hits and an RBI as the Pirates kicked off the biggest series in the 12-year history of PNC Park with an easy win.
"I just like it when we play like that," Hurdle said.
Despite the lofty stakes for a franchise seeking its first playoff appearance since 1992, Hurdle stressed the need to not place too much focus on a late-July series. Maybe, but with the Pirates facing a chance to make inroads on the team with the best record in baseball, the game had an electricity typically reserved for early fall in cities far away from the one that hasn't fielded a winner in more than two decades.
Lower-lever tickets were fetching $100 or more hours before the first pitch, and Liriano did not disappoint the largest Monday-night crowd (32,084) since the park opened in 2001.
The left-hander, whose path to stardom veered off track after having Tommy John surgery in 2007, retired the first 10 batters he faced and kept the best-hitting team in the National League on its heels while dropping his ERA to 2.16.
"Well he didn't throw a lot of balls and was pounding the zone pretty good," Matheny said. "Once you get into a negative count, you have to guard, and he did a nice job of expanding when he had to."
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