Walker's 11th-inning homer gives Pirates 1-0 victory over Tigers
DETROIT — The Pirates entered Tuesday with an extra-base hit in 46 straight games, the longest such streak in the majors.
Make it 47.
Neil Walker turned on a Jose Ortega hanging slider, hooking a soaring home run just inside the right-field foul pole in the 11th inning — the Pirates' first extra-base hit of the game — for the only run in a 1-0 victory.
The home run was Walker's third hit of the game, his third home run of the year and his second homer in four games — indicative of the Pirates' second baseman getting comfortable at the plate since returning May 13 from a hand injury. Walker said he has been working to regain his rhythm.
“I felt pretty good on this road trip. My timing is pretty good,” Walker said. “The guy was throwing hard; I was trying to get ready early. Sometimes you just see some of those off-speed pitches float into the zone, and that was the case there. I was able to pull my hands in and drive the ball.”
The Tigers entered Tuesday second in the majors with an active extra-base hit streak of 43 games — hardly surprising, given the depth and talent of their lineup. Yet, it came to an end thanks to 11 mostly exceptional innings from the Pirates' pitching staff, including seven surprising innings from Jeanmar Gomez.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle hinted at a plan last week. Charlie Morton would make two more rehab starts and find a home back in the Pirates' rotation. Looking further down the road, Gerrit Cole will avoid Super Two status in mid-June, when most clubs look to bring up their top prospects. Maybe James McDonald will get healthy.
Whatever the case, Gomez did not seem long for the rotation. Gomez has different plans.
Gomez tied his career-best mark with seven innings at Comerica Park. He did not allow a Tiger to reach second base. He surrendered three singles and a walk. He executed his sinker-slider combo all night, forcing 10 groundouts.
“I had my sinker working,” Gomez said. “I felt good today. I felt good in the bullpen.”
The only element of Tuesday's game more improbable than Gomez's start was that of Detroit's Rick Porcello.
Porcello had largely been a disappointment in his career. He entered Tuesday with a 6.1 strikeout-per-nine innings rate, well below the major league average.
A day after Justin Verlander struck out 13, Porcello struck out a career-high 11. Porcello's fastball ran up to 95 mph, and his curveball and changeup had sharp break.
Porcello got Andrew McCutchen to strike out swinging on a 78 mph curve in the seventh. Russell Martin watched a 92 mph, two-seam fastball paint the corner for a strikeout.
Porcello had excellent command; he didn't issue a single walk. He allowed just three hits and did not allow a runner to reach second base until the eighth.
It became a contest of bullpens.
Justin Wilson relieved Gomez and pitched a scoreless eighth. He worked around a Clint Barmes throwing error that allowed Omar Infante to reach second with one out — the first Tiger to advance to second — by striking out Andy Dirks with a 96 mph fastball.
Wilson hit 97 mph on the stadium radar gun in the ninth-inning against Miguel Cabrera, who grounded out. He gave up a two-out single to Prince Fielder in the ninth, but Victor Martinez flied out to the warning track in left to send the game into extra innings.
Mark Melancon danced around a single and just his second walk of the season in the 10th. Jason Grilli came on for his NL-best 21st save in the 11th, striking out Torii Hunter, Cabrera and Fielder in order.
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