MILWAUKEE -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave the equivalent of a verbal shrug when queried prior to Friday night's game about having to cope with a Brewers team coming off a 6-0 road trip during which it hit .320 and averaged seven runs.
"They've got five guys who are hot. It's a perfect time to catch them at home," Hurdle said, implying the Brewers were due to cool off.
Well, the law of averages did rule, but not in the way Hurdle had hoped.
The Brewers were also due to come alive at Miller Park, where their prior average was .184 and their run total was four, the entirety of their offense in a season-opening series with Atlanta. That they did, leaving Francisco Liriano and the Bucs in their wake, 4-2.
The Pirates hope the game was their only loss. Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen took himself out of the game after making the final out in the eighth, complaining of some ankle discomfort.
"I couldn't even tell you what happened," Hurdle said. "He came to me after that last at-bat and said, 'I think I did something to the ankle.' I didn't think it was worth pressing, so we took him out."
Told that McCutchen was seen re-entering the clubhouse after the game in the company of head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk -- absent any limp and even smiling -- Hurdle said, "Good! But I have no other information on that."
Prior to that, McCutchen was given as hard a time as anyone by Milwaukee right-hander Wily Peralta. After getting on base via a force-play grounder and a walk, McCutchen did steal his first two bases of the season, but couldn't find his way home.
Only Peralta kept up his end in what began as a gripping duel between Dominican dandies, taking a three-hit shutout into the seventh ruined by Neil Walker's two-run homer.
"He did a pretty good job keeping the ball down, and when you do that mostly in the 90s, that's tough," said Walker. "I think he was more effective against right-handers, because the slider came more into play."
Liriano retired the first nine men he faced -- five on strikes.
"Vintage Frankie," Hurdle said, "with the fastball command, the changeup -- then the slider for the wipeout pitch. There's such a fine line on the mound sometimes."
When Liriano crossed that line, the first two hits he allowed left the yard, marking only the second time in 29 starts for the Pirates that he allowed multiple homers.
So effective early was Liriano that he reduced the partisan crowd to cheering when plate umpire Greg Gibson called one of his pitches a ball.
The fans had a lot more to cheer soon after Gibson called "ball four" for the first time, on Carlos Gomez leading off the fourth. Two outs later, Aramis Ramirez was ready for Liriano's 1-2 fastball and lifted it over the left-field wall for the Brewers' first hit and a 2-0 lead.
"Gomez laid off some balls, found his way on base," Hurdle said. "Then he left a fastball up that Ramirez covered."
"Yeah, I tried to go up and in, and it went middle-in," Liriano said. "You can't make that mistake at this level."
Liriano's spell was broken. Mark Reynolds launched another homer with one out in the fifth, and Rickie Weeks' double and Gomez's single made it 4-0.
"He was keeping us off balance with a changeup and slider and mixing in fastballs," Reynolds said. "The next time through the order, he tried to get ahead with the heater, and we were just ready for it."
Departing for a pinch-hitter after six, Liriano was charged with four runs and as many hits, while walking two and striking out seven. He had also allowed two home runs to the Reds last June 17, hit by Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart.
"Liriano … his slider is nasty, his changeup is nasty, he spots his fastball well. It's really hard to see those pitches," said Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke, with relief. "[If] we get runs off him, I'm pretty happy."
Any Pirates hopes for a characteristic late strike were snuffed by Francisco Rodriguez, once again a bullpen phenomenon. K-Rod struck out the side in the ninth -- Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin, Walker -- for his third save of the season and No. 307 of his career. Rodriguez also lowered his WHIP to 0.20 -- one baserunners in five innings.
"He's got weapons out there," Hurdle said. "He's a smart guy, and he's made some adjustments. He's definitely back in play."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.