PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Francisco Liriano started 2013 with his right arm in a cast and his star-crossed career in flux.
A freak accident while goofing off with his kids on Christmas Day left Liriano's verbal agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates in doubt. Suddenly, the fresh start Liriano desperately needed appeared iffy.
"I didn't think I was going to play this year," Liriano said.
Pittsburgh stuck with Liriano, signing him at a discount. They Pirates were assured his right arm would heal and his left arm -- the one rebuilt during Tommy John surgery in 2007 -- would turn out to be a perfect fit at PNC Park.
"If A.J. (Burnett) was going to be our one, he could be our two," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Where that two went, how high it played, I don't think any of us knew."
Higher, it turns out, than Liriano or his perpetually optimistic manager imagined.
Ten months after wondering when -- and where -- he would pitch again, Liriano can give the resilient Pirates the lead in the NL division series on Monday when they face St. Louis and right-hander Joe Kelly in Game 3.
Following a 16-8 regular season in which he evolved into Pittsburgh's de facto ace, Liriano became a part of franchise lore in a 6-2 victory over Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game on Tuesday. Overpowering the Reds in front of a black-clad crowd aching for postseason success after the Pirates' 21-year absence, Liriano delivered seven sublime innings that left the park in such a frenzy that fans couldn't figure out whether to chant his first name or his last -- so separate chants of both broke out.
"Just trying to please the fans as much as I can," Liriano said, "be myself and make some good pitches and just give them the win they want."
Pittsburgh is willing to take fliers on players who flamed out elsewhere. It didn't work out in 2012 when Erik Bedard signed a one-year deal only to be cut loose in late-August.
Liriano sent a jolt through the staff when he arrived in mid-May. His slider and breaking ball made more potent by a tweak in his delivery and a fastball that has resumed topping out in the mid-90s, Liriano has been devastating at PNC Park, where long fly balls to left field become innocuous outs. After making quick work of the Reds, Liriano is 9-1 with a 1.43 ERA at home this season.
"We have a game plan we'll take into tomorrow," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "We understand he's a good pitcher. We also realize we have a very good lineup."
And a guy on the hill who hardly seems concerned by the circumstances. Moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation in July, Kelly went 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA even as Matheny experimented with the 25-year-old's role. He worked at least five innings in each of his last 15 outings.
WIll investment pay off?
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are about to find out if their $36 million investment in Hyun-Jin Ryu pays off in the postseason.
The 26-year-old rookie pitcher from South Korea will start Sunday night in the Dodgers' first home playoff game since 2009. Los Angeles is looking to take control of the best-of-five National League division series after splitting the first two games in Atlanta.
The Braves are turning to their own rookie, 22-year-old Julio Teheran.
Ryu isn't a typical rookie, having brought a wealth of experience from his native country when he signed with the Dodgers last winter. Teheran more accurately fits the description, with just four major league starts under his belt before this season.
Both the left-handed Ryu and right-handed Teheran went 14-8 during the regular season.