The Baseball Version Of Nailing The Powerball

Submitted By Blackkennedyy1
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PITTSBURGH -- The man who will start the first home division series game in Pittsburgh Pirates history is the baseball version of nailing the Powerball.


Seriously, if you work in the front office of any team, is there anything better than signing a pitcher for a million bucks who magically, unexpectedly turns himself into a real, live Cy Young candidate right before your very contact lenses?

Well, it happened. It happened to the Pirates with a lottery ticket named Francisco Liriano.

[+] EnlargeFrancisco Liriano
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Francisco Liriano, star of the NL wild-card game, takes on the Cardinals on Sunday.
And now, one sensational 16-win season later, with Tuesday's humongous wild-card game performance tossed in for Pittsburgh's euphoric amusement, it will be this 29-year-old left-hander's turn to pitch Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday, against a Cardinals team he dominated all year (3-0, 0.75 ERA in three starts).

We can hear people all around America looking at Liriano, just one season removed from a 6-12, 5.34 ERA nightmare for the Twins and White Sox, and saying to themselves: "Boy, the Pirates sure lucked out with that guy."

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Well, it might look like luck if you don't examine this saga closely enough. But let us assure you. Stuff like this -- turnarounds like this -- never just happen out of the blue, like your 7-year-old finding a $50 bill lying on the sidewalk.

They happen when the right club finds the right reclamation project and matches that reclamation project with a group of really smart, talented people and everything works.

Well, that happened too. It happened to Liriano and the Pirates. But not by some lucky lightning bolt of good fortune.

It happened because there might be no organization in baseball right now that does a better job of bringing broken pitchers into its Miraculous Pitching Delivery Tuneup Shop and fixing them up like new. Or better than new.

Really. Think about it. Think about all the pitchers who sputtered into Pittsburgh and turned into major cogs in the Sid Bream Curse Buster Express: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez ...

And Francisco Liriano.

Especially Francisco Liriano.

The story of how he reached this special place, where an entire city thinks that sending him to the mound in October is as close to Baseball Nirvana as watching their 75,819th replay of Bill Mazeroski's homer, is an amazing tale.

Originally agreed to a two-year, $12.75 million deal in December. Unagreed to that deal after winning the Goofy Offseason Injury of the Year competition at Christmas by breaking his right arm (aka his other arm) while fooling around with his kids.

That left poor Liriano in limbo for another month and a half, until he settled with the Pirates on another deal for that meager $1 million guarantee, with the rest of his earning power contingent upon a return to health.

At the time, that bizarre injury looked like a disaster.

Little did he know -- little did we know -- it would turn out to be the best thing to happen to Liriano in years.

[+] EnlargeFrancisco Liriano
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
He might not have pitched at all this year, so Liriano has plenty to be thankful for in Sunday's NLDS start.
"I think everything happens for a reason," he said Saturday, on the eve of his third career postseason start. "I broke my arm, but everything happens for a reason. I didn't think I was going to play this year, so I'm surprised by the year I have had this year. Just thank God for the opportunity and the Pirates to give me a chance to be able to pitch. Everything has been amazing for me, and I'm very thankful."

It seems crazy, in retrospect, that he is thankful for the injury itself. But it turned out that that, too, was a blessing in a painful disguise.

"One of the big things that broke right for him is that, because of the injury, he had such a long spring training," said