Somehow, some way the St. Louis Cardinals must accomplish what has been an impossible task: Beat Pittsburgh left-hander Francisco Liriano.
The Cardinals will take their cuts against the 29-year-old Liriano in Game 3 of their knotted-up National League Division Series at 3:37 p.m. on Sunday. Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) was 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in three regular-season starts against St. Louis.
"We have a game plan we'll take into (Sunday)," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We understand he's a good pitcher. We also realize we have a very good lineup. (It's) just a matter of us staying within our game plan and it comes down to execution. His side or our side."
The Cardinals not only have had their difficulties with Liriano, but PNC Park has been a house of horrors. The Pirates were an overwhelming 7-3 against St. Louis in Pittsburgh, where the Cardinals failed to homer and were shut out three times. St. Louis scored 38 runs in Pittsburgh, but 30 of them came in three games.
"We really don't put a whole lot of stock in it," Matheny said, preferring to discount his club's glaring troubles at PNC Park "only because we've played in a lot of different parks this season."
"We've played well on the road," Matheny said. "There have been times when this team has played well here in the past. So when you get to this time of year, you kind of throw all that stuff out of the window.
"Right now, we're just making sure everybody is focused on doing what we can do, what we control."
St. Louis will counter Liriano with Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA), a rotation rock who has thrived at PNC Park. Kelly is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA in three regular-season games, including two starts, in Pittsburgh. Every time he's pitched at PNC, St. Louis has won, and he's permitted just one run in 14 innings in Pittsburgh.
"I like pitching here," said Kelly, who will make his first postseason start. "I take the ball and I go with it. I just try to attack the hitters here. These guys are ultra-aggressive. I try to get quick outs and get my team back to the dugout."
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said his team's unfamiliarity with Kelly has led to some of its problems against Kelly.
But Hurdle allowed: "He's a good, young pitcher with excellent stuff. And when he's throwing strikes, that's tough competition."
Liriano hasn't just picked on the Cardinals. In 11 home starts, he is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA, allowing just two homers in 73 2/3 innings
"I think I've been ... able to execute pitches and have good location here, and the guys behind me make some great plays for me here," Liriano said. "Just be under control, not try to do too much. Just be more consistent with the strike zone, and like I said, not try to do too much. That's the whole key for me -- trying not to overthrow."
Liriano said the Cardinals "have a pretty good lineup."
"I just go out there and try to execute some pitches and use whatever is working for me that day," he said. "(I) try to mix some of my pitches in and out."
The Cardinals pounded Pittsburgh 9-1 in the series opener on Thursday at Busch Stadium as Adam Wainwright had nine strikeouts and Carlos Beltran belted a three-run homer in a seven-run third against A.J. Burnett.
The Pirates drew even Friday with a 7-1 triumph in which they abused Lance Lynn and capitalized on shoddy St. Louis defense. Pedro Alvarez's two-run homer in the third was the big blow.
The Game 3 winner will own all the momentum in the series. Matheny is steadfast in his belief that the Cardinals will shake off their lackluster performance from Friday and come back strong.
"We've had this all year," he said. "The team has bounced back well from having some tough losses. Every club goes through a long season. I've been very proud of how the guys haven't worn a loss longer than what they need to."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.