The Pittsburgh Pirates put together a pair of late rallies, but it wasn’t enough to come back on a cool, rainy Memorial Day in Detroit, as the Tigers prevailed 6-5 at Comerica Park.
With former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on the mound Monday afternoon, the Tigers (29-20) scored three runs in the fifth to break open a 1-1 game and never trailed past that point. Verlander struck out 13 Pirates in seven innings, capped by a key whiff of Andrew McCutchen with the potential tying run on second base.
The Pirates (31-20) hit five doubles and two triples on the day, including a three-bagger from Neil Walker that helped Pittsburgh take a 1-0 lead in the first. Walker (double) and Travis Snider (triple) had RBI extra-base hits in the seventh to pull the Bucs within 4-3, and Gaby Sanchez roped a run-scoring double in the eighth that made it 6-5 Detroit with one out.
However, pinch-runner Josh Harrison was picked off second base by Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit to blunt the Pirates’ threat. Benoit followed up with a strikeout of Brandon Inge, who went 0 for 4 in his first career game as a visitor in the city that was his home for nearly a decade.
Snider reached on a one-out single in the ninth against Jose Valverde, but Walker popped up and McCutchen struck out on a 3-2 pitch to end the game. McCutchen scuffled through an 0-for-3 day, although he picked up a sacrifice fly and a walk along the way.
Much like the Tigers’ relievers, the Pirates’ bullpen had an uneven game, with Jose Contreras’ seventh inning serving as the nadir. The veteran righty walked four and was charged with two runs as Detroit stretched its lead to 6-3 just after Pittsburgh’s two-run rally off Verlander.
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano earned his first loss in black and gold, allowing eight hits and four runs in five innings in his fourth start since recovering from offseason surgery on his broken right arm. Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta had three of his four hits off Liriano, driving in the tying run in the fourth and following Victor Martinez’ fifth-inning two-run double with an RBI double of his own.
Tony Watson was effective in relief for the Pirates, pitching the final 1 2/3 innings without allowing a run. He cleaned up Contreras’ seventh-inning mess and got a swinging strikeout of reigning American League MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the eighth. The Bucs fanned Cabrera three times, helping his 12-game hitting streak come to an end.
But despite Cabrera’s rare tough day at the plate, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Martinez had two hits each to prop up the powerful Tigers offense and deliver the opener of a four-game home-and-home interleague series.
Snider, batting leadoff in place of the injured Starling Marte, led the Pirates with three hits, while Garrett Jones, Sanchez and Walker had two apiece.
Pittsburgh will attempt to bounce back in the home of the defending AL champions at 7 p.m. Tuesday with Jeanmar Gomez on the mound. Rick Porcello will oppose for Detroit.