By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH — Francisco Liriano allowed one run over seven dominant innings, Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 27th home run and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-2 Monday night.
Liriano (11-4) struck out eight and walked just two to win his fifth straight start. The Pirates kicked off the key series at PNC Park by sending the Cardinals to their fourth straight loss to pull within a half-game of the lead in the NL Central.
Clint Barmes doubled twice and drove in two runs for Pittsburgh. Andrew McCutchen added two hits and an RBI.
Jake Westbrook (7-5) continued to struggle against the Pirates. He fell to 1-8 against Pittsburgh in his career after surrendering four first-inning runs. Matt Carpenter and Shane Robinson hit RBI singles for St. Louis, which has scored just four runs during its longest losing streak of the season.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle stressed the need to not place too much focus on a late-July series. Maybe, but with the Pirates chasing their first playoff berth in 21 years and 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 since 1992.
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 1992.
The left-hander, whose path to stardom veered off track after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007, continued to resurrect his career. He 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.
The Pirates took some of the pressure off Liriano early by continuing to rough up Westbrook.
As ugly as his record against the Pirates is, it could have been even worse. Westbrook was touched for four runs in the first inning in his last start at PNC Park on April 16 only to have the game washed out by rain.
The weather couldn’t save him this time. Neither could Westbrook’s usually solid control.
Jose Tabata led off the bottom of the first with a walk and Westbrook drilled Neil Walker moments later. McCutchen followed with an RBI-single up the middle and Alvarez took the very next pitch and sent it into the first row of bleachers.
Westbrook survived a bases-loaded jam in the second to stay close, but by then Liriano had all the support he would need. His only real mistake came in the sixth, when pinch-hitter Tony Cruz led off with a triple and scored on Carpenter’s single up the middle. A strikeout and a double play followed, and the Pirates broke it open in the seventh against relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas.
Garrett Jones started it with Pittsburgh’s first sacrifice fly to the outfield since May 27 and Barmes clubbed a two-run double as the Pirates batted around.
BRAVES 9, ROCKIES 8 (10)
ATLANTA — Andrelton Simmons drove in Dan Uggla from first base with a triple off Edgmer Escalona in the 10th inning, and the Atlanta Braves won their fourth straight game with a 9-8 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
After Uggla led off with a walk, Simmons hit the ball too deep into the gap in left-center field for Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler to keep it from reaching the wall.
Scott Downs (1-0) earned the win after being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels earlier in the day and arriving at Turner Field not long before the first pitch. The left-hander allowed one hit and struck out one in 1 1-3 innings.
Escalona (1-4) allowed one hit, one run and one walk in 12 pitches.
METS 6, MARLINS 5
MIAMI — Ike Davis had a go-ahead RBI double in a three-run seventh inning, Daniel Murphy drove in three runs, and New York snapped a five-game skid against Miami.
David Aardsma (2-0) pitched an inning in relief of Jeremy Hefner for the win. Bobby Parnell retired Giancarlo Stanton with runners on first and third to end it for his 21st save in 25 opportunities.
Jeff Mathis drove in two runs for Miami.
Miami’s Jacob Turner was in line for the win when he was pulled with a 5-3 lead after 6 1-3 innings. But Miami relievers Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos (3-4) struggled to get out of the seventh as the Mets scored three runs.
INDIANS 3, WHITE SOX 2
CLEVELAND — Jason Giambi still had the chills long after he shook Progressive Field.
Giambi hit a pinch-hit home run leading off the ninth inning, a towering shot over the center field wall that sent the Cleveland Indians to their fifth straight win, 3-2 over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
Batting for Mark Reynolds, Giambi belted a 1-1 pitch from Ramon Troncoso (1-3) into the bushes beyond the fence. It was the 436th career homer and ninth career walk-off shot for the popular 42-year-old slugger, who had a bucket of ice water dumped over his head by teammates.
“I might catch pneumonia,” he joked. “I’m a little old to be dunked with water. I love it. I’ve been preaching all year one guy is not more important than another and it’s going to take all 25 of us, even more than that, to win ballgames and we’ve done it all year. It’s just exciting to be a part of it.”
According to STATS, Giambi is the oldest player in major league history to hit a walk-off homer, surpassing Hank Aaron, who was 42 days older than Giambi when he did it in 1976.
Closer Chris Perez (3-1) pitched the ninth, allowing a two-out triple to Dayan Viciedo but stranded the go-ahead run when left fielder Michael Brantley made a sensational, running catch for the third out.
With their 10th win in 14 games, the Indians moved within 2 1-2 games of the idle Detroit Tigers for first place in the AL Central.
The sinking White Sox have lost four straight and 10 of 13.
Giambi’s dramatic shot — and postgame bath — provided more memorable snapshots for the Indians, who are making a strong push as August approaches. Cleveland is keeping the pressure on the Tigers as well as injecting themselves into the wild-card discussion.
As he rounded third, Giambi smiled when he saw his teammates awaiting his arrival at the plate. He leaped into their welcome-home party and nearly had his jersey pulled off in the celebration.
“That’s what keeps you coming back,” Giambi said. “There’s no moment more special than when you get that embrace from your teammates and all those smiles. It’s exciting.”
RAYS 2, RED SOX 1
BOSTON — David Price allowed just two hits over 7 1-3 innings to beat the Boston Red Sox for the second time in six days, and Tampa Bay won 2-1 on to retake first place in the AL East.
Price (6-5) was dominating the makeup game before it was delayed for 39 minutes because of a brief downpour that arrived as fans were singing “Sweet Caroline” and he was warming up for the bottom of the eighth. The Rays left-hander stayed in the game, but retired just one batter — after starting him out with three straight balls — before Joel Peralta relieved him.
Ryan Lavarnway doubled off the Green Monster, but pinch-runner Daniel Nava couldn’t score when Stephen Drew’s line drive went over right fielder Wil Myers’ head for a double. Nava tagged on Brandon Snyder’s fly ball to short left-center, but he was called out by home plate umpire Jerry Meals even though replays showed that Nava’s leg got the plate before the tag.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was ejected arguing the call.
Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 26th save. He gave up a leadoff single to Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole second with one out, and walked David Ortiz with two outs. A 100 mph wild pitch moved the runners to second and third but Mike Napoli struck out on a 3-2 changeup to end the game.
Felix Doubront (7-5) allowed two runs on eight hits and three walks, striking out four in five innings.
Price pitched a five-hitter to beat the Red Sox on Wednesday and help the Rays move a half-game back in the AL East behind Boston, which had been in first since May 27. But the series finale was rained out on Thursday, bringing the teams back to Boston for the makeup on Monday night.
Before they could finish things up at Fenway Park for the season, the Rays took over first place in the division on Friday and then gave it back on Sunday.
RANGERS 4, ANGELS 3
ARLINGTON, Texas — Geovany Soto hit a game-ending homer for Texas after A.J. Pierzynski had already gone deep in the ninth off Los Angeles Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, and the Rangers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory.
Pierzynski led off the ninth by pulling a pitch into the right-field seats, his 11th homer this season snapping a 4-for-27 slump and tying the game. Nelson Cruz followed with a single off Frieri (0-3) before David Murphy grounded into a double play. Soto, who entered the game hitting only .198 this season, then hit a towering flyball to left that easily cleared the wall.
Jason Frasor (1-2) pitched a scoreless ninth for Texas, three days after he gave up a game-ending homer in an 11-inning loss at Cleveland.
Texas had gone 26 innings without scoring a run, two short of the 41-year-old team record, until Ian Kinsler’s RBI single in the sixth to get the Rangers within 3-1. They had played 46 innings without leading a game until Soto’s second career game-ending homer.
The Texas comeback spoiled another solid effort for Angels starter Jered Weaver, who allowed only one run with six strikeouts over seven innings. The right-hander has a 1.31 ERA (seven runs in 48 innings) his last seven starts.
Dane De La Rosa allowed an unearned run in his inning of relief before Frieri’s third blown save in 28 chances.
J.B. Shuck hit his first major league homer for the Angels, who have lost four in a row. Josh Hamilton had a two-run single against his former team.
Matt Garza (1-1) struck out six and allowed three runs over seven innings in his second Texas start since getting traded. The right-hander had won six starts in a row, including his last five for the Chicago Cubs before a winning debut for the Rangers last Wednesday against the New York Yankees when the only run he allowed was unearned after his throwing error.