Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (47) delivers during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at PNC Park, July 10. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
by Will Graves
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Nothing lasts forever, not even the Oakland Athletics’ mastery over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Tommy Milone struggled following a lengthy rain delay and the A’s fell to Pittsburgh 5-0 on Wednesday night, the first time in franchise history Oakland has lost to the Pirates.
The A’s came in 11-0 all-time against the Pirates since interleague play began in 1997, a streak finally snapped on a night Oakland had no answer for Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano.
The veteran left-hander scattered four hits over seven innings following a nearly three-hour rain delay, momentarily cooling off one of the hottest teams in baseball.
“Both teams have to go through (the delay),” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “I think Liriano had a little more to do with that. We’ve seen good before, but his slider was tough to pick up today.”
Liriano (9-3) struck out six and walked one while trimming his ERA to 2.00 as the Pirates snapped a four-game losing streak. Pedro Alvarez went 2 for 4 and drove in two runs for Pittsburgh. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Jose Tabata also had two hits each for the Pirates.
Milone (8-8) was coming off a season-high 8 1-3 innings in a win over Kansas City last week, but couldn’t get out of the third inning this time. He allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out two in his shortest outing of the season.
“They were doing a good job of putting the ball in play and falling,” Milone said. “And even though they weren’t hit very hard, you always give yourself a chance when you put the ball in play and that’s what they were doing.”
Marte doubled leading off the third, and Tabata followed with an RBI double. McCutchen drove Tabata home with a single, and Alvarez followed two batters later with a single to center that scored McCutchen.
That was enough for Milone, who needed 80 pitches to get through 2 2-3 innings. He was replaced by Pat Neshek, who made his first appearance since June 29.
The rust showed.
The Pirates began the night hitting an NL-worst .226 with runners in scoring position but went 5 for 9 on Wednesday after Russell Martin and Alvarez hit consecutive RBI singles in the fourth.
The margin, however, allowed the A’s to get a glimpse at the future. Former first-round pick Sonny Gray made his major league debut barely 24 hours after being called up from Triple-A Sacramento. The right-handed pitcher looked ready, striking out three and allowing one hit in two innings of work.
“I didn’t know if I’d be nervous or not, but I wasn’t nervous at all,” Gray said. “I can remember back in spring training kind of getting nervous, so nervous I didn’t even know how to throw the ball to the catcher. But tonight, I don’t know what it was but I was more relaxed than I’d been pitching in Sacramento.”
The A’s aren’t sure how long Gray will stick around during his first stint in the majors, but he impressed Melvin with his poise and his stuff.
“I thought he was really good,” Melvin said. “You can have some nerves and sometimes that shows up in command — but he was on it right away.”
So was Liriano.
The veteran left-hander began the season on the disabled list while recovering from a broken right (non-throwing) arm and didn’t make his debut until May 11. In less than a month he has resurrected his career and surpassed All-Star teammate Jeff Locke for the team lead in victories with his fourth straight win.
Liriano tossed Pittsburgh’s only complete game of the season in a 6-2 victory over the Cubs last Friday then backed it up with seven sharp innings against the AL West-leading A’s. Mixing speeds artfully, the 29-year-old Liriano allowed only two runners to reach third base.
This marked the 24th time in 25 games a Pittsburgh starter has allowed three earned runs or fewer. The 13th shutout of the season dropped the Pirates’ team ERA to 3.09, easily the best in baseball.
NOTES: The Pirates begin a three-game series on Friday at home against the New York Mets. Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.38 ERA) starts for the Pirates against Jeremy Hefner (4-6, 3.39). … Oakland ends the first half of the season at home against the Boston Red Sox. Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.04) starts for the A’s.