After three consecutive sub-par starts, a victorious Justin Verlander (6-4) bounced back by striking out a season-high 13, allowing three runs and seven hits over seven innings. Jose Valverde shut down the Pirates in the ninth to post his eighth save of the season.
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano (3-1) was tagged with his first loss of the season, giving up four runs and eight hits in five innings.
Travis Snider led the Pirates attack with three hits and a run scored. Garrett Jones, Gabby Sanchez and Neil Walker all added a pair of extra base hits. The Pirates would have ten hits on the day, including five doubles and two triples off three Tigers pitchers.
Jhonny Peralta had a huge afternoon for the Tigers, leading the way with four hits and three RBIs. Victor Martinez chimed in with two hits and two RBIs, while Prince Fielder had a pair of singles and scored three times.
Coming into today's game, the Pirates were one of the hottest teams in baseball, 13-3 over their past 16 games. The Buccos would be a good test for Verlander, who struggled to get a win in his last start and hadn't gone deeper than five innings in three weeks. Verlander definitely passed the test.
But the first inning was more of the same, Verlander putting the Tigers in an early hole. He was nicked for an early run, the Pirates taking a 1-0 lead.
Don Kelly's brother-in-law, Neil Walker, clubbed a 91 MPH Verlander fastball over the head of Avisail Garcia for a triple by the flag pole in deepest center field. Walker would score on Andrew McCutchen's sacrifice fly, Torii Hunter's excellent throw making the play at the plate far closer than anyone would have expected.
After allowing a lead-off single and stolen base to Russell Martin, Verlander would strike out the side in the second. Ending the inning was a vintage Brandon Inge at-bat, punched out on a checked swing.
The Tigers would threaten in the bottom half of the inning, but would not score. Facing an infield shift, Peralta singled to right center with two out, Matt Tuiasosopo working a free pass. But Brayan Pena could not come through with the two-out base hit with a runner in scoring position, flying out to short right.
The Tigers strung together three straight singles in the fourth to tie the game 1-all. Fielder and Martinez led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Peralta proceeded to beat the shift with an RBI looper into shallow left, Fielder crossing the plate to knot up the score. Two on with no outs, Liriano would get three straight ground balls to pitch out of further trouble.
The Tigers would threaten again in the bottom of the fifth, this time pushing across three runs to take the lead. Hunter drew a one-out base on balls. Fielder beat the shift by dropping a two out bloop single in left, Hunter advancing to third.
Martinez channeled his 2011 self, smoking a line drive past Inge at third, Hunter scoring easily. Fielder was going to be held at third, but the ball took an odd kick off the stands in left, ricocheting past Snider, rolling all the way to the left field fence. By the time Snider ran down the runaway hit, two runs had scored, Martinez had a two RBI stand-up double and the Tigers were up 3-1.
A white-hot Peralta made the Pirates' shift look silly for a third straight at-bat, reaching down to his ankles to slap an opposite-field RBI double just inside the first base bag. Martinez scored to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead.
In the sixth inning, McCutchen led off with a walk, then easily stole both second and third off Verlander (Pena never had a chance with the jumps McCutchen had). But Verlander would once again pitch out of trouble, striking out Martin and Pedro Alvarez bouncing out.
Verlander was showing much better command than in his previous three starts. But he wasn't lights out either, allowing at least one base runner in every inning but the third. Fortunately, he was also in strike out mode, with 11 through six innings.
Verlander's strikeout count increased in the seventh, but so did the Pirates' extra base hit and run count.
Sanchez led off the inning with a double to left. Verlander appeared to be on the verge of pitching out of another jam, striking out Inge and Clint Barmes bouncing out. But Snider tripled off the wall in deep right center to drive in Sanchez. Snider crossed the plate when Walker doubled down the right field line past a sprawling Fielder, the Pirates now down by just a run at 4-3.
Verlander avoided further damage, ending both the inning and his afternoon when McCutchen waved at strike three, the 13th Pirate to strikeout.
Mike Zagurski had tossed a scoreless sixth, but he was replaced by Jose Conteras to start the bottom of the seventh. Relief pitchers are expected to throw strikes. Fortunately for the Tigers, Conteras couldn't find the strike zone if you had given him a map, GPS and a Sherpa guide.
To open the inning, Conteras walked both Cabrera and Fielder. After Martinez lined out to center, an unbelievably hot Peralta singled up the middle, a ground ball which glanced off the glove of a diving Walker. The ball rolled far enough into center to allow Cabrera to score, the Tigers now up 5-3.
Conteras dug himself a deeper hole, walking Kelly (who had replaced Tuiasosopo on defense in the top of the inning) to load the bases. Conteras issued his fourth free pass of the inning, Pena's walk driving in Fielder.
The Tigers up 6-3 and the bases still full, Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle finally yanked Conteras, replacing him with lefty Tony Watson. Watson pitched out of the jam, Avisail Garcia lining out to short, Infante grounding out.
Up three runs, Joaquin Benoit took over for Verlander in the eighth. He immediate allowed a run, but give an assist to Fielder.
Jones led off with the Pirates' fifth extra base hit, a double to left. Martin then hit a hard one-hopper to first, right at Fielder, who didn't even get a glove on it. The E-3, allowed Jones to score, shrinking the Tigers' lead to 6-4.
The Pirates weren't going away, continuing to chip away at the Tigers' lead. Sanchez pulled the Pirates to within a run with another extra base hit, doubling past a diving Kelly in left. Martin came all the way around to score, the Tigers now clinging to a 6-5 lead.
Josh Harrison came on to pinch run. He would run the Pirates right out of a rally.
One out and Inge at the plate with a full count, Benoit caught Harrison dancing just as he was about to break for third. Harrison was so far off the bag, Benoit actually double pumped before picking him off second. Inge struck out on the next pitch, Benoit getting out of a huge jam and the Tigers still up by a run.
The Tigers looking for some Jose Valverde insurance, Hunter led off the bottom half of the inning with another extra base hit, doubling to left (both teams had now combined for ten). But Watson would retired the meat of the Tigers' lineup in order, Cabrera striking out for the third time, Fielder and Martinez flying out.
There would be no cushion for Papa Grande.
The Big Potato took over in the top of the ninth, the Tigers up 6-5. The Pirates countered by pinch hitting for Barmes with right-hand hitting Jordy Mercer. Mercer bounced out 6-3 on a full count.
The Tigers had the shift on for Snider, Peralta stationed behind second base. Snider would beat the shift by sending a ground ball to left, right where Peralta would normally be positioned, for his third base hit.
First pitch swinging, Walker popped up for the second out. But McCutchen was still looming on deck.
Valverde quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, but then worked McCutchen away, the count going full. Crowd on their feet screaming for the K, Valverde ended the game in fine fashion, blowing an outside fastball past McCutchen, the 15th Pirate to go down swinging.
Your final score is Tigers 6, Pirates 5. Even better, the Tigers are in great shape as they reach an early season milestone.
In case you put stock in such things (probably shouldn't) the Tigers are 2.5 games up on Memorial Day— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 27, 2013
The first place Tigers are now 29-20 on the season, 2 1/2 up on the Indians, who lost their fourth consecutive game, falling to the Reds. After dropping 3-of-4 to the Rangers, the Tigers have gone a tear, and are 6-1 over the past week.
The Pirates fall to 31-20, third place in the NL Central, two games back of the Cardinals.
In the final game of the Tigers' home stand, the Pirates send right-hander Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.75 ERA) to the mound. He'll face the Tigers' Rick Porcello (2-2, 6.28 ERA), looking to rebound from a loss to the Twins in his last start. First pitch is 7:08 PM.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Hee. HA! HAHAHA! BWAHAHAHA!!!
Francisco Martinez, traded by Tigers to Mariners in the Doug Fister deal, designated for assignment by Seattle today.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 27, 2013
A legacy is on the line over the next four games:
Tigers-Pirates. The rivalry over who has to claim Randall Simon as part of their legacy— Cthulhu Whitaker (@jason_d_price) May 27, 2013
The Pirates used a shift on Prince Fielder, which almost every team is baseball tends to do. But the Buccos also put on the shift against Jhonny Peralta, placing three infielders to the left of second base. He beat it in the first inning with a line single to right center.
Is Miguel Cabrera in a slump? Well, kinda. His hitting streak ended at 12 games, striking out three times in a rare 0-for-4 day.
Just Cabrera's eighth game this season with multiple strikeouts. #Tigers— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 27, 2013
Francisco Liriano becomes 2nd pitcher to strike out Miguel Cabrera twice in a game this season. The other: Garrett Richards on April 20.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) May 27, 2013
With 13 strikeouts, Justin Verlander reached double digits for the second time in 2013. His season high had been 12, versus the Mariners on April 18.
The Pirates used chubby Mike Zagurski in relief of Francisco Liriano in the sixth. He is kindly listed at 220 pounds.
FAT GUY ON A LITTLE MOUND— Cthulhu Whitaker (@jason_d_price) May 27, 2013
My baseball viewing day is complete. The Pirates just put in a pleasantly fat pitcher.— Bob Wojnowski (@bobwojnowski) May 27, 2013
Mike Zagurski looks exactly like a Mike Zagurski.— TheTripleDeke (@TheTripleDeke) May 27, 2013
Prince Fielder was 6-for-6 this season after Cabrera drew a base on balls. The streak remained alive after Cabrera walked in the seventh. Fielder remained 6-for-6, drawing a walk.
Justin Verlander: His best start in three weeks, also the first time he's pitched more than five innings since May 5.
Jhonny Peralta: A marvelous day at the plate, 4-for-4 with three RBIs, hitting to all fields. Perata is now third in the AL in batting average at .341. Even Buster Olney is impressed, tweeting the following before Peralta drove in a run with a single the seventh:
This guy is 3-for-3 today, leading all AL players at his position in OPS -- by more than 100 points. espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batt…— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 27, 2013
Prince Fielder: Didn't drive in a run, but otherwise played a big part in the Tigers' rallies. Fielder reached base three times on a pair of singles and a walk, scoring three runs.
Victor Martinez: Nice game for the Tigers' DH with two hits, driving in two runs with a well-placed double.
Jose Valverde: Posted one of his cleaner saves, striking out the ever dangerous McCutchen to end the game.
Joaquin Benoit: The Pirates had his number, nicking the Tigers' set up man for a pair of doubles and two runs.
Miguel Cabrera: Even the best have bad days, Cabrera going hitless with three strikeouts.
Memorial Day uniforms: I understand honoring the war dead on Memorial Day. But good Lord, the camouflage unis of Tigers and Pirates were God awful. Worse, they are also a money grab by MLB.
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Max Scherzer's quality start topped Avisail Garcia's three RBIs, 58% - 38%.