PITTSBURGH -- When Francisco Liriano took the mound Monday night, he could look back on his last 20 days and 21 innings and see a total of five runs the Pirates had scored on his behalf. But when Liriano took his seat on the bench for the bottom of the first, he saw the Bucs match that before making an out.
That immediately raised the curiosity of manager Clint Hurdle, who heretofore had only seen his veteran lefty walk a tightrope in a wind storm. It was all calm at PNC Park, where Liriano handled eight innings of the 11-0 romp over the White Sox.
"It was fun to watch Frankie out there. We finally scored him some runs, gave him some room to work," Hurdle said.
Liriano worked a masterpiece, the latest in now a museum-full of them by Pittsburgh's rotation. He allowed two weak singles, issued one walk, and struck out 12.
To do so, he ignored the first-inning outbreak.
"It was still early, and I wanted to make sure to go out there and make good pitches, attack the zone," said Liriano, after lowering his opponents' average against him to .176.
Liriano also lowered his ERA to 2.94, but that looks like a grotesque stat when compared to what he and his rotation mates have done since June 7. In the last eight games, starters have combined for an ERA of 0.77, allowing five earned runs in 58 1/3 innings.
"I'm not amazed or impressed," said Andrew McCutchen. "It's what we've come to expect from the rotation that we have. They keep doing this on a consistent basis, so it's something we look forward to."
This was Liriano's second contribution to that run, following his eight-inning, three-run outing versus the Brewers last Tuesday. Again, he had exceptional command of his fastball, able to time and again set up that killer slider as the punchout pitch.
"Every one of the guys has pounded the zone," Hurdle said of his starters. "Different skills sets and different pitches, but they're all throwing strikes and changing speeds, not being predictable. Frankie's fastball command was good, which is always a good sign for him. He was very aggressive."
As the game wound down, the only mystery was whether Liriano would nail his fourth career complete game. The score that would have made that a certainty ultimately dictated his removal after 100 pitches.
"He's in place with us for three years, and the opportunity to throw a complete game will come again. I don't know if tonight was the time to push it," said Hurdle, who did ask Liriano how he was feeling but offered his advice that "at this point in time, we felt best served by having him call it a night."
Liriano got the same advice from his catcher. As he had all night, he didn't shake off Francisco Cervelli on that, either.