Pirates try to grab edge over Cards as NLDS shifts to Pittsburgh

(SportsNetwork.com) - It should be a wild scene in Pittsburgh on Sunday when the National League Division Series shifts to PNC Park for a pivotal Game 3 between the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis routed the upstart Pirates in Game 1, but Pittsburgh bounced back in a big way with a 7-1 win in Game 2 to even the best-of-five series and steal home-field advantage.

Now the Bucs, who of course are back in the postseason for the first time since 1992, have all the momentum and will have their ace on the mound in Francisco Liriano, who was magnificent against the Cardinals this season, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in three starts.

He also held them to a .149 average.

Liriano also enjoyed his time pitching in the Steel City, as he was one of the best home pitchers in the league this season, posting a 9-1 mark with a 1.43 ERA in 12 starts at PNC after beating Cincinnati in Tuesday's wild card contest.

"I don't know what to say," Liriano said when asked about his success at PNC. "I think I've been able to execute pitches here, and the guys behind me make some great plays for me here."

Liriano resurrected his career with Pittsburgh this past season and was 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA this season.

"I know Liriano has pitched great and all that, but you never know," said veteran Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran. "Starters sometimes don't feel it, and all of a sudden, they start putting balls down the middle and the other team takes advantage of it. I know they're hoping for him to pitch a good game, and we're hoping he throws some pitches right down the middle."

Pittsburgh rookie Gerrit Cole was certainly feeling it on Friday, as he gave up one run on two hits while striking out five for the Pirates, who bounced back from a 9-1 loss in Game 1 on Thursday.

"Well, anytime you can get a win, it's huge. But obviously to fall behind 2-0 to a team like the Cardinals is no good. Today was a huge victory for us," said Pedro Alvarez, who has homered in each of the first two games.

Alvarez, who tied for the NL lead in home runs, is the first Pirate to homer in back-to-back playoff games since Willie Stargell in the 1974 NLCS.

"Nothing better than Pedro getting his bat running hot right away," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There is not a park he can't hit it out of. He can drive it out from line to line. He misses balls and they carry over the fence."

With six home runs this postseason, the Pirates already have the third most for any October run in team history, behind 1971 (13) and '79 (seven).

Yadier Molina hit a solo homer in the loss for the Cardinals, who saw starter Lance Lynn (0-1) allow five runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings.

"Well, I thought Lance did a pretty nice job early," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The only time he got into trouble is when he didn't control the counts. I thought he established his off-speed pitches as well as we've seen him do that all season long. But when we got into disadvantaged counts, it was a completely different at-bat. So that was pretty consistent."

Getting the call for the Cardinals on Sunday will be right-hander Joe Kelly, who was 10-5 this season with a 3.08 ERA. Kelly, though, pitched to a 2.69 ERA in his 15 starts, which saw St. Louis go a remarkable 12-3.

"It's going to be fun. I'm going to face a good pitcher in Liriano," Kelly said.

Kelly also worked at least five innings in each of his last 15 outings and beat the Pirates twice in September.

"That's what playoff baseball is all about," said Kelly, who pitched to a 2.35 ERA in seven relief appearances in last year's postseason. "You dream about it as a little kid. It's going to be a great time. The atmosphere is going to be electric, obviously and I think our side is looking forward to it."

Pittsburgh narrowly won the season series, 10-9, but lost six of nine in St. Louis.