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PIT@COL: Mercer's sac fly puts Pirates on the board

DENVER -- If Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had such a power, he would completely erase Friday night's start from the mind of Francisco Liriano.

In the midst of the best season of his big league career, Liriano had the look of a man rife with confusion and frustration Friday night, allowing 10 runs and 12 hits -- both career highs -- in just 2 1/3 innings as the Pirates fell to the Rockies, 10-1, at Coors Field.

It ended the Pirates' five-game winning streak, moving them to 14-6 over their last 20 games as they hold on to a four game lead in the National League Central

That brief stay on the mound was all Liriano needed to allow more runs than he did combined in May, June or July. It was the worst start for a Pirates pitcher since A.J. Burnett allowed 12 runs in May 2012, a rare misstep for the best pitcher on the most consistent staff in the Majors.

It was Liriano's first career start at Coors Field, and his pitches did not break as they usually do, a fairly common issue in the mile-high air.

"Nothing was moving; nothing was sinking," said Liriano, whose ERA climbed from 2.02 to 2.83. "I couldn't get anything going, so just one of those days and couldn't hit my spot. No matter what I threw, they would hit it."

He looked nothing like the nearly unhittable left-hander who had an NL-leading 12 wins and 2.02 ERA since May 11. Even more startling was that it came against the very club he held to two hits over seven innings less than a week ago.

"This is the big leagues, and every once in a while you have those kind of nights, unfortunately," Hurdle said. "Nobody likes it; he doesn't like it. But it can happen, and that's why there's nights when you just flush it. You don't psychoanalyze it, you don't overcook it; we're not going to look at tape, we're not going to go anywhere with that."

Liriano's troubles were very evident from the start. The Rockies' second batter, DJ LeMahieu, singled to open the floodgates, the first of five hits in the inning that placed the Pirates in a 4-0 hole. Michael Cuddyer's single scored LeMahieu before catcher Wilin Rosario roped a two-run double into the right-field corner.

Todd Helton drove in the final run of the inning with another RBI single, Pittsburgh still holding onto the hope that Liriano would be able to reset.

Yet things took an even uglier turn in the second. After Dexter Fowler led off with a single, Liriano recorded two quick outs, his escape route in place and the chance to at least eat up a few more innings still in play.

Another Cuddyer single scored Fowler, and Rosario launched a hanging fastball deep into the left-field bleachers, crushing any lasting hope that Liriano might be able to save the start. Three consecutive hits from the bottom of the Rockies' order scored another two runs, putting Colorado in command with a 9-1 lead after just two innings.

The Rockies had apparently taken away a valuable lesson from the last time they faced Liriano.

"We faced him five days ago, and he tried to use the same approach he used last time," Rosario said. "We were ready, and that was the result."

So out of hand was the game by the bottom of the eighth that Hurdle decided to place Josh Harrison on the mound. Harrison, an infielder, dealt high-60s fastballs that were enough to induce a flyout from Corey Dickerson with runners on first and second.

"I was just flipping like an easy fastball in there," Harrison said. "These guys, I mean they're locating fastballs, sliders, everything. I didn't even want to try to throw a changeup, knuckleball, nothing. So I know just trying to throw a fastball is hard enough, and these guys come in and do it day in and day out. It definitely gives you an appreciation for [pitchers]."

The Pirates had their own chances to gain the upper hand early, loading the bases three times in the first two innings, twice with just one out. Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa (11-6) surrendered four singles to open the game, but the streak failed to produce a run when Pedro Alvarez struck out and Gaby Sanchez followed with a groundout.

Shortstop Jordy Mercer stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded in the second, lifting a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Neil Walker from third. Andrew McCutchen followed with a walk, loading the bases again for Russell Martin. But Martin could not recreate the magic he produced in Thursday night's win, another groundout silencing their bats for good.

Though he struggled with efficiency, De La Rosa allowed just one run over five innings, striking out three and walking three more.

Liriano started the third, but Hurdle had seen enough after Liriano walked the leadoff batter and allowed a Troy Tulowitzki single to place runners on the corners. Cuddyer grounded out, enough to drive in his third run of the night and keep Liriano's numbers from sailing any higher.

Pittsburgh's bullpen continued to shine in Liriano's absence, as Vin Mazzaro and Jared Hughes held the Rockies scoreless for the remainder of the game before Harrison recorded the Rockies' final out.

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