What started as a brilliant pitcher's duel between Rick Porcello and Jeanmar Gomez ended up as a battle of the bullpens. The Pittsburgh Pirates would win that battle, riding Neil Walker's 11th inning home run to a1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
Porcello pitched eight scoreless innings, Gomez countered with seven of his own, but neither would get a decision. Mark Melancon (1-0) pitched a scoreless tenth for the Pirates, getting credit for the win. Ex-Tiger Jason Grilli converted his 21st save. Tigers rookie reliever Jose Ortega (0-2), who allowed Walker's game winning home run, took the loss.
Offensively, the only star of the game was Walker, who had three of the Pirates' six hits as part of his late inning heroics. The Tigers could only muster five hits against four Pirates pitchers.
What started as Rick Porcello's best game ever ended as Jason Grilli's revenge. In-between was one of the more frustrating performances from Tigers' offense we've seen all season.
Porcello started the game like a house afire, retiring the first nine Pirates he faced, not allowing a ball to leave the infield. The one Tigers starter not known for missing bats already had four, including striking out the side in the second.
Meanwhile, Gomez had allowed a base runner in each of the first three innings. The Tigers couldn't capitalize, unable to string together hits.
The first Pirate to reach base was Andrew McCutchen in the fourth, his one out high chopper bouncing over a leaping Omar Infante, who tried in vain to bare hand the ball. Porcello pitched around the single, recording his fifth strikeout in closing out the inning.
The game still scoreless after five, you could officially declare it a pitcher's duel. Not than anyone could have predicted it.
Porcello had allowed just two hits with zero walks, striking out six on 63 pitches. Gomez was almost as good, having allowed three hits, walking one, striking out one, having thrown a mere 55 pitches.
The game quickly rolled on to the sixth inning. Porcello once again set the Pirates down in order, including a season high seventh and career high tying eighth strikeout. Gomez did the same, tossing a 1-2-3 sixth.
Porcello set a new single game high for strikeouts in the seventh, McCutchen the ninth victim on the night. Porcello then hit double digit punch outs for the first time in his career, Russell Martin looking at a called third strike to end the inning. Porcello had now retired 11 straight, six via strikeout.
One of the reasons Gomez had kept the Tigers at bay was the glove of McCutchen. After robbing Dirks of extra bases in the third by covering a ridiculous amount of ground in left center, he did the same in the bottom of the seventh. This time McCutchen took extra bases away from Prince Fielder, running down a line drive to left center as part of another Gomez 1-2-3 inning.
Porcello and Gomez mowing down the opposition, not a single base runner had reached second base through seven innings.
The Pirates finally got a lead off man on in the top of the eighth. Pedro Alvarez singled, only the third hit for the Pirates off Porcello. One down, the first base runner for either team reached second, Porcello walking Travis Snider full count, Alvarez advancing to second, replaced by pinch runner Josh Harrison.
Porcello pitched out of the first threat by either team, Clint Barmes ending the inning by bouncing into a 5-3 twin killing.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle pulled Gomez after seven innings and just 73 pitches, lefty Justin Wilson getting the call out of the bullpen.
One down, Barmes was charged with an E-6, throwing Infante's ground ball to short into the stands. The two base throwing error gave the Tigers their first threat of the night.
Unfortunately, Barmes didn't throw a second ground ball away. Brayan Pena would hit for Don Kelly, bouncing out 6-3. Wilson struck out Andy Dirks for a frustrating end to the inning.
Porcello's best career start would end with a frustrating no-decision, Joaquin Benoit taking over in the top of the ninth.
Walker, aka Don Kelly's brother-in-law, singled with one out. The count 0-2 on Garrett Jones, Walker stole second, advancing to third when Alex Avila's throw bounced into center for an error. But the threat ended there, Benoit getting out of the inning on Jones' can of corn to center.
The heart of the Tigers' order due up in the bottom of the ninth, Wilson remained in the game for the Pirates. After Hunter struck out and Cabrera bouncing to short, Fielder kept the inning alive with a single to right. Victor Martinez then drilled what looked like a game winning home run when it left his bat. But the ball died a loud death on the left field warning track, Starling Marte hauling it in at the base of the fence to end regulation.
The game started late, might as well stay even later and play extra innings.
Jose Ortega started the tenth for the Tigers, and immediately got into trouble. Martin led off with a line single to center, Harrison sacrificing him into scoring position. Gaby Sanchez struck out looking at a wicked 3-2 breaking ball for the second out.
Playing left-right percentages, Jim Leyland ordered the left-handed Snider intentionally walked with first base open. The move worked. Pinch hitting for the right-handed Barmes, right-handed Jordy Mercer flew out to center.
The Pirates went with Melancon in the bottom of the tenth. Leading off, Peralta greeted him with a line drive single to left. He took second on Avisail Garcia's bouncer to third. After Infante drew a base on balls, Pena fouled off several 0-2 pitches before striking out. Melancon got out of trouble when he shattered Dirks' bat, bouncing to first to end another threat.
The scoreless tie ended in the 11th. Ortega still on the mound, Walker smashed a one out, no-doubt solo home run to right, landing on the Belle Tire tarp. Walker's third home run of the year made it a 1-0 game, setting up the return of Jason Grilli.
Once run out of Detroit (and several other big league towns) on a rail, Grilli has resurrected himself as a lights out closer this season (stealing the same mojo Fernando Rodney had in 2012 and has lost in 2013). The former mop up man made the Tigers look foolish, striking out the side, Hunter, Cabrera and Fielder, to end a long, long night.
A very unsatisfying game over. The final score is Pirates 1, Tigers 0.
Saying someone deserved better is a bit of a cliche. But tonight? Rick Porcello truly did deserve better. But keep in mind the Tigers went to toe-to-toe agsainst a team with one of the best records in baseball. The Pirates are no longer a laughingstock. I'm OK with a split, if more than little disappointed how close it was to a sweep.
The Tigers end a 4-2 home stand at 29-21 on the season, and still holding a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL Central over the Indians. I'll take a winning home stand and first place every damn time, even after a bitter loss. The 32-20 Pirates remain in third place in the NL Central, three games back of the Cardinals.
After two games in Detroit, the home and home series heads to Pittsburgh. The Tigers open with Anibal Sanchez (5-4, 2.38 ERA). The Pirates counter with NL strikeout leader A.J. Burnett (3-5, 2.57 ERA). First pitch is 7:05 PM.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
It's beginning to feel as if every series the Tigers play has a weather delay of some sort. Tonight's first pitch was at 8:21 PM, thanks to a 73 minute rain delay.
Rick Porcello struck out the side in the second inning, something which goes down about once a season.
Top of 2nd was the 1st time this season Porcello has struck out the side, fifth time in his career (1x in 09, 1x in 11, 2x in 12) #Tigers— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 29, 2013
Maybe Rick is trying to strike out more batters to make himself more appealing to women.— Eric Wayne (@PhilCokesBrain) May 29, 2013
@philcokesbrain it's working.— Sierra Dean (@sierradean) May 29, 2013
Actually, Porcello has been striking out more batters this season than ever before.
Fourth time in nine starts this season Porcello's struck out 6-plus. He did that five times in 31 starts last year.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) May 29, 2013
Alex Avila has been dealing with the mother of all slumps,two hits in his last nine games, a 2-for-29 stretch. He reached base on each of his first two at bats, via a walk and a single, giving him a two game hitting streak, such as it is.
The game still scoreless after six, frustration with the Tigers' lack of offense was rising, neither team with a base runner able to reach scoring position.
Great pitching from Rick, #Tigers - NOW GET THE MAN SOME RUNS, YOU USELESS SO-CALLED "HITTERS."— Cath (@Baroque97) May 29, 2013
Jeanmar Gomez was crazy efficient with his pitches, averaging a hair over ten pitches an inning (73) through seven.
Through 6 2/3 innings, Gomez has finally reached the average Verlander 2 inning pitch count.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) May 29, 2013
Josh Harrison was embarrassingly picked off second base on Monday by Joaquin Benoit. Inserted as a pinch runner in a similar situation tonight, the Tigers tried the catch the much more careful Harrison leaning again. Porcello's pick off throw hit Harrison, but the ball didn't roll far enough to allow him to advance.
We had another example of asking a player who has little experience bunting to do do so in the tenth. Avisail Garcia looked extremely uncomfortable trying and failing to lay down a sacrifice. He looked at strike one, jabbing at and missing strike two. Garcia would get the job done regardless, moving the runner over with a ground ball.
Though I can understand a tenth inning bunt call if it were for a batter who KNEW HOW TO DO IT, bunts will remain, and shall forever be, the tool of the devil.
I HATE BUNTS. BUNTS ARE HOW YOU ADVANCE AROUND THE BASES IN SATAN'S BASEBALL LEAGUE. #Tigers— Cath (@Baroque97) May 29, 2013
Something all Tigers fans are saying tonight:
Did it have to be Grilli?— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) May 29, 2013
Yes, it did. The only thing which would have been worse if it had been Brandon Inge with the game winning home run.
Rick Porcello: What was easily the best start of Porcello's career (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K) was also a statistical oddity:
Porcello is the first Tiger since Earl Wilson in 1966 to pitch eight scoreless innings with 10+ K's and not get the win. Third all-time.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) May 29, 2013
By 3. RT @dcameronfg: Rick Porcello had more strikeouts tonight than he did in April.— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 29, 2013
Joaquin Benoit: Pitched a scoreless ninth.
Alex Avila: Going 1-for-1 with a walk makes him the Tigers' offensive juggernaut!
Jose Ortega: Give up a game losing home run in extra innings, get a HISS.
The Tigers' offense: Getting completely shut down by a journeyman with a career 4.82 ERA will get you a HISS every damn time. I mean, only 73 pitches? Good Lord...
Rick Porcello getting stuck with a no-decision: Life isn't fair, neither is baseball.
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GAME 49 PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Jhonny Peralta's four hit, three RBI day made him the runaway PotG with 87% of the vote.