Remembering the 2nd Most Influential Pittsburgh Pirate of my Lifetime As He Retires

 

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)




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As a 28 year old, I have not seen many successful Pittsburgh Pirate seasons.  In fact, I have seen around five, and some would argue only three.  I have also not had the luxury of watching many superstar players that had much of a positive influence on the outcome of the season. 

There were several above average players like Brian Giles, Jack Wilson, and Jason Bay that had their small windows of success.  However, none were great enough to truly have any major impact on the many below .500 seasons I have had the opportunity to see. 

Obviously the most influential Pirate of my lifetime has been Andrew McCutchen.  He is the face of the years that pulled the team up from the doldrums, or in the Pirates case the brig, and finally deliver three straight winning seasons with playoff berths included.  He collected an MVP award along the way and thousands of Pirate fans’ hearts.  Despite being the best move at the time, in my opinion, trading McCutchen ended that era of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

However, another hugely influential face of that Pirates era just recently announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.  After 14 seasons, Francisco Liriano is hanging up his cleats and riding off into the sunset.  He will forever be engrained in Pirates history as the starting pitcher for the Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Reds in 2013.  It was one of the most exciting Pirates games, and overall sporting events, I have ever attended and Liriano recorded a quality start and the win.

Liriano was brought into the Pirates as a 29-year old in 2013.  Liriano had pitched five and a half seasons with the Minnesota Twins and a half a season with the Chicago White Sox before joining the Bucs.  After starting his career as one of the most talented and exciting phenoms of the game with a dominant 2006 season, injuries stifled his progress and he was all but forgotten by the time he landed on the Pirates roster. 

However, there was hope for Liriano as, then pitching coach, Ray Searage’s next reclamation project.  Searage had already tuned up 35-year old A.J. Burnett the season before.  Why not try with another aging arm who had previously shown Cy Young-type talent? 

Lightning did indeed strike twice and Liriano had a great opening season with the Pirates.  He led the staff in wins and ERA, was second in strikeouts to Burnett, and only gave up nine homeruns in 161 innings pitched.   Liriano had come into the season with a 4.40 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.  He finished the 2013 season with an ERA of 3.02, a WHIP of 1.22, and a 16-8 record.

This performance earned Liriano the start for the, aforementioned, Wild Card Game.  This was the first playoff game in Pittsburgh since the Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves in 1992 in the infamous Sid Bream game.  I was born July of 1993, mere months after the Pirates decided to sign Andy Van Slyke instead of Barry Bonds, so it was my first Pirates postseason game of my lifetime. 

As the Pirates took the field in the top of the 1st, Francisco Liriano took the mound.  The buzz in the air was like nothing I had ever felt before.  Liriano had a 3-up-3-down top of the 1st, and the rest is history.  The Pirates would win the game 6-2.  Liriano would pitch 7 innings, giving up just four hits and one run, while striking out five.  It’s a night I will never forget, with Liriano being one of the main faces of it.

Liriano would go on to pitch two more great seasons with the Pirates, before struggling in 2016.  The Pirates traded Liriano to the Toronto Blue Jays halfway through 2016.  We would then see him again in 2019 when the Pirates signed him as a free agent.  However, he would pitch just 70 innings, but to the tune of a 3.47 ERA.

Despite signing with a few teams after the Pirates in 2019, Liriano would not log another major league inning after that 2019 season.  He would, in my eyes, retire a Pirate which seems fitting.  Francisco Liriano is a name and a face I will always associate with the best three-year span the Pirates have played in my lifetime.  To me, he is the second most influential player I have seen don a Pirates uniform to this point, and he is a player I will never forget.

Happy retirement Francisco, and thanks for the memories!

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