MILWAUKEE -- There was encouragement to be taken from many directions for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night.
First and foremost, there was their 4-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, a task which had been beyond the Pirates' range seven of eight times in this young season.
The Bucs had strong pitching throughout, and timely hitting when it counted most. If they can put together games like this one on a consistent basis, they will be the same kind of contenders they were in their breakthrough 2013 season.
That is easier said than done, but in this one, Pittsburgh accomplished what needed to be done.
Here, the Pirates scored three times in the ninth against Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez for a 4-1 victory. Rodriguez had converted 16 of 17 save opportunities this season. While he entered in a tie game here, he also had a 0.43 ERA. Rodriguez had given up one run in 21 appearances, but the Bucs got him for three.
Chris Stewart, normally the backup catcher, playing now in place of Russell Martin, who is on the disabled list, made his first RBI of the season a memorable one, driving in the game-winning run with a ninth-inning single.
Starling Marte, who had been out with lower back tightness, entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter. He did not succeed then, but in the ninth. he doubled, driving in two insurance runs. This was the at-bat of someone whose back, at the very least, was well enough so that he could double off Rodriguez.
And perhaps best from the long-term perspective, the Pirates' pitching was good enough to keep a difficult Milwaukee lineup in check, front to back.
Francisco Liriano, the National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2013 and the Bucs' Opening Day pitcher this season, stymied the Brewers for six innings, giving up just one run on four hits with one walk, while striking out seven.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked about the contrast between this start and others earlier in the year when Liriano had been "prone to the big inning." Hurdle objected to the characterization.
"It's not like he's prone to the big inning all the time," Hurdle said. "He had 16 wins last year. He pitched pretty good. You saw much better command tonight, some swing-and-miss, pitch efficiency, all of it."
Liriano was removed from the game after the sixth, even though he had thrown only 87 pitches.
"I had a feeling that if we could get him clean through six [innings] then that was the way we were going to cut up the end of the game," Hurdle said. "That's what our plan was."
Liriano was particularly impressive.
"Good stuff, he mixed all his pitches in, when he had situations with runners in scoring positions he made some good pitches," Stewart said. "His changeup was really good tonight, his slider was working well. It sounds kind of funny, but we mixed in his fastball enough to keep them off balance. He did a tremendous job for us."
Liriano was 2-1 against the Brewers at Miller Park last season, but with a 5.52 ERA. He lost a start against them last month at Miller Park, giving up four earned runs in six innings. What was different here?
"I had better command, and when they had runners on base, I executed my pitches," Liriano said. "It's all about location, and I think I had better command of the fastball and the slider, in and out.
"I think it was the first time that I had good game pitching here since '09. Tonight, I just tried to stay calm, not do too much and just execute my pitches."
This game proved a point for the Bucs. Their pitching is good enough to neutralize a highly productive offense. The Brewers were not at full strength Wednesday night, but they were leading the NL Central and they have played better than .600 baseball.
"They're a very good team. They've played well here, they've pitched well. That's indicative of their record," Hurdle said. "They're missing some guys. [Carlos] Gomez wasn't in the lineup tonight, [Aramis] Ramirez wasn't in the lineup tonight.
"But we've had games like this when that lineup has been in. We're more than capable of taking care of offenses. And the old saying is still true today, that good pitching beats good hitting."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less