Pirates edge Tigers, 1-0, on Martin's hit in 11th
For the second time in three nights, the Pirates and Tigers on Thursday found themselves headed to extra innings in a game in which neither had blinked.
They combined for 15 hits against seven pitchers, with the Tigers leaving 11 men on base and the Pirates seven, yet the game remained scoreless.
Neil Walker's home run won it Tuesday, and he jump-started the 11th inning at PNC Park with a single to right field off Luke Putkonen (1-1). Andrew McCutchen walked, and pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez singled to load the bases. That set the stage for Russell Martin's single to deep left, giving the Pirates a 1-0 walk-off win.
The Pirates, a season-high 14 games over .500, took sole possession of second place in the NL Central with the victory and the Reds' loss to the Indians.
It was a fitting end to an entertaining, competitive series against the AL Central leader, and one that those who argue the Pirates are for real will use as evidence. The series opened Monday in Detroit with a 6-5 Pirates loss, followed by a 1-0 11th-inning win Tuesday and a come-from-behind 5-3 victory Wednesday at PNC Park.
“Top to bottom (the Tigers) are an extremely good team,” said Walker, who was 2 for 4. “This is the best starting pitching staff we've seen, and we didn't even see the guy that has seven wins on their team (Max Scherzer). Offensively we knew we were going to have to scratch and claw to score runs, and our pitching staff really picked us up and relievers picked us up, and we pushed runs across when we had to.”
The Tigers nearly pushed a few across midway through the game. Left-hander Jeff Locke ran his scoreless streak to 19 1⁄3 innings but needed his defense to lend a hand in the fifth after he allowing four consecutive singles to start the inning. It was only by virtue of a spot-on throw to the plate by right fielder Travis Snider and a well-timed leap and throw home by third baseman Brandon Inge that the Tigers didn't leave the inning with at least a run.
“Defense is huge,” Locke said. “Everyone knew what they had to do if the ball came to them, and everyone was prepared for the situation that was put in front of them.”
The bottom of the inning was a quick 1-2-3 affair, leaving Locke little time to recover. After Locke allowed a one-out single and walked Ramon Santiago, manager Clint Hurdle called for right-hander Vin Mazzaro, who stranded the pair.
Tigers right-hander Doug Fister, meanwhile, gave up just four hits through seven innings.
The Pirates had only one baserunner through three, and that was Walker, who was hit by a pitch. Walker got the first hit of the game with a leadoff single in the fourth but was caught stealing. Fister, the only member of the Tigers' rotation who had not recorded double-digit strikeouts in a game this year, fanned 12.
The Tigers lost Jhonny Peralta, who still was arguing a called third strike as he took the field after the fourth inning and was ejected. Peralta entered the game with a major league-best .435 batting average against left-handed pitchers.
“I think it's some tangible evidence that we call can use from time to time that we just went out and played a team that went to the World Series last year and we matched up well and competed well,” Hurdle said. “There's a lot of season in front of us but these are the markers along the way that you like to knock down.”