PITTSBURGH — 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. The 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.
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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 Sunday when they face St. Louis and right-hander Joe Kelly in Game 3.
After 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.
First, it was Alex Rodriguez against Major League Baseball. Next, it was Rodriguez versus the New York Yankees, his own team. Then Rodriguez found himself at odds with the players union that is supposed to be representing him.
In late August, Rodriguez grew so frustrated with how the Major League Baseball Players Association was defending him — or, as he saw it, not defending him — that his personal legal team wrote a letter formally requesting the union step aside from its prescribed role as his chief representative on his arbitration panel. It was an unusual acknowledgment that Rodriguez did not trust the union to look after his best interest, and he wanted to pick his own representative. He didn’t get his wish.
The move represented a significant escalation in the continuing battle over Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension, the longest doping penalty ever issued by Major League Baseball. The letter portrays Rodriguez as increasingly on his own, mistrustful of his accusers, the arbitration process and even the union lawyers assigned to defend him.
The letter, obtained by The New York Times and not previously reported, was dated Aug. 22.