ST. LOUIS -- Jung Ho Kang, making his 2016 debut, looked every bit ready to be back, blasting a pair of home runs in support of Francisco Liriano to lift the Pirates to a 4-2 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Friday night.
"It's nice to have him back. He's a great player," Liriano said of Kang. "To see him do that today is amazing. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark in a situation that we needed him to, it's nice to see that."
Though the two National League Central rivals have been virtually even since the start of 2013 -- the Pirates hold a 31-30 advantage in 61 matchups -- Pittsburgh has taken all four games between the two clubs this season.
Liriano has been behind a pair of those victories and carved up the Cardinals' lineup on Friday as he has repeatedly over his four seasons in Pittsburgh. Just like Opening Day, Liriano struck out 10, this time over seven innings. The Cardinals utilized a wild pitch to spark a two-run seventh and pull within one, but could get no more. Since joining the Pirates, Liriano has allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his 13 starts against the Cardinals.
"He was locked in," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Liriano. "You could tell from the first inning that he was making his pitches. I was barking, thinking they were bad pitches and [the umpire] was giving him too much [of the plate]. But guys went up and validated he's just painting on the corners, making tough pitches all the way through."
Kang, who joined the Pirates on Friday after wrapping up his rehab from knee surgery, didn't have much success against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, grounding into a double play and popping out in the infield with the bases loaded in his first two at-bats. But Martinez would exit the game after 3 1/3 innings due to fatigue, and Kang found his stroke against the St. Louis bullpen. In his third at-bat, Kang teed off against Tyler Lyons for a two-run homer, and he added an insurance run with a solo shot off Kevin Siegrist in the eighth.
"Second AB, I was a little late, timing-wise. The third AB, I was preparing slightly early, and that did turn out well," Kang said through interpreter H.K. Kim. "I think I got the timing down throughout the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED The Kang Show: Back in the Majors after a 7 1/2-month recovery from left knee surgery, Kang swung at the first pitch he saw in each of his first three at-bats. His aggressiveness paid off in his third at-bat, when he launched a high fastball from Lyons over the right-field wall. In his next at-bat, Kang ripped a 427-foot homer to left field off Siegrist.
"After the first two at-bats, he was able to right himself," Hurdle said. "He had some opportunities to do some things there as well. Put the barrel on the ball really well his last two at-bats. Fun to watch." More >
Emergency relief: Lyons inherited a fourth-inning mess from Martinez, but wiggled out of the bases-loaded jam unscathed. Martinez started the escape act by getting Kang on an infield popup after three straight batters reached to open the inning. After Martinez left, Lyons struck out Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer to keep the Pirates' lead at 2-1. Those were the first of seven strikeouts Lyons notched while throwing a season-high 3 2/3 innings.
"He did a great job coming into that situation," Matheny said. "To come in and get two quick strikeouts straight from the 'pen with the bases loaded like that is a great job. I thought he did a terrific job all the way across."
What a reach: With two outs and Starling Marte at third base, Harrison took two pitches, fouled off two more and swung at a low-and-away curveball from Martinez. The pitch was well off the plate, practically in the other batter's box, but Harrison reached out, broke his bat and knocked the ball up the middle, through the Cardinals' infield, for an RBI single to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
"All I can say is I've been blessed with hand-eye coordination," Harrison said, smiling. "It helps me sometimes. Sometimes, it may hurt me. That's the way I play the game. You've got to give it everything you've got."
Running wild: Liriano didn't give the Cardinals much to hit, but he did aid their offense with a seventh-inning wild pitch. With runners on first and second and pinch-hitter Ruben Tejada up, Liriano yanked a pitch that nicked off catcher Francisco Cervelli's glove and rolled toward the Cardinals' dugout. Randal Grichuk scored from second and Aledmys Diaz went first-to-third, positioning him to score on Tejada's subsequent sacrifice fly.
"It's just a reaction in the moment," Grichuk said. "You see where he's at and try to make an adjustment as quick as possible, especially when you're having a tough time manufacturing runs off him. I saw it go far enough away and went 100 percent and was able to get there."
"We're at our best when we don't care who's on the other side." -- Harrison, on the Pirates bouncing back from being swept by the Cubs with a victory over the Cardinals
"It's not as easy as they make it look up here from time to time. ... Mostly it's a challenge every day to go out there and be that good. He's shown an ability to find a way back when he gets a little bit out of sync." --Hurdle, on Liriano
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates have homered in nine of their last 10 games, hitting a total of 16 during that stretch. They only hit seven homers in their first 16 games of the season.
Martinez, who pitched through a respiratory illness in his last start, was knocked from this one in the fourth due to fatigue. Martinez estimated that the sickness, which has now lingered for about 10 days, has caused him to lose 10-15 pounds. The Cardinals will reevaluate him on Saturday before determining how to handle his next scheduled start.
"I felt like I tried my best today, and then in the fourth inning, I started feeling a little weak," Martinez said, with Brayan Pena translating. "I started coughing a lot, and I felt like it was starting to catch up to me. When the game was going on and on and on, I felt weaker." More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals used their challenge successfully in the eighth inning to confirm that Stephen Piscotty was hit on the foot by a Tony Watson pitch. The overturned call gave the Cardinals a leadoff baserunner, though Watson ended the inning by stranding Piscotty on third.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Coming off a pair of quality starts, left-hander Jeff Locke will try for three in a row as the Pirates continue their series with the Cardinals at 2:15 p.m. ET on Saturday. Locke delivered the Bucs' third seven-inning start of the season on Sunday, holding the Reds to three runs on four hits while striking out six.
Cardinals:Adam Wainwright will be in search of his third straight win when he takes the mound to face the Pirates in Saturday's 1:15 pm CT game. He'll also be looking to extend his extra-base-hit streak, as Wainwright has tallied one in each of his last three plate appearances.