What a difference 24 hours can make, except for where it counts.
After a truly epic 11-6 Pittsburgh Pirates victory Monday night, the Bucs took care of business in a much more tidy fashion Tuesday, downing the Detroit Tigers 4-2 at PNC Park to sweep the home portion of this week’s four-game interleague series.
Edinson Volquez continued to make his case for staying in the Pirates’ starting rotation, limiting a powerful Tigers lineup to two runs on five hits through six innings. With Gerrit Cole (strained back) nearing a return to Pittsburgh, one of the starters will be forced into the bullpen, but Volquez’s spot appears safe after consecutive strong outings.
They didn’t drive four home runs like Monday, but the Pirates (64-55) stroked five doubles as part of a nine-hit attack, with seven of eight starting position players getting on base at least once. Gaby Sanchez and Travis Snider bopped RBI doubles in the second inning with the help of some questionable Detroit defending, helping the Pirates overcome an early 1-0 deficit.
Jordy Mercer, hitting in the No. 3 spot of the order for the first time in his MLB career, drove in another run in the third, while pinch-hitter Ike Davis scored Starling Marte with a crucial double in the sixth that made it 4-2.
The Pirates’ bullpen, which hasn’t been as efficient as last year’s group, authored a 2013 flashback courtesy of Justin Wilson (seventh inning), Tony Watson (eighth) and Mark Melancon (ninth). Following Wilson’s much-welcomed perfect frame, Watson burned his way through the meat of the Tigers’ order, capped by a swinging strikeout of two-time defending American League MVP Miguel Cabrera.
Melancon had to navigate some trouble en route to his 22nd save, as back-to-back hits from Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos put the Tigers (63-54) some hope. But pinch-hitter Torii Hunter flied out to deep right and former Pirates prospect Rajai Davis bounced out to third to please another crowd of 30,000-plus on the North Shore.
It was a good night all around for Pittsburgh, which moved within 1 1/2 games of Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central. Division rival St. Louis also lost, giving the Bucs a 1 1/2-game margin for the league’s top wild-card spot. Meanwhile, Detroit remained behind surging Kansas City for the top position in the AL Central.
In addition, the Bucs improved to 5-3 with star center fielder Andrew McCutchen sidelined by a rib injury, although all of those games have been at home. The Pirates continue their matchup with the Tigers in Detroit on Wednesday and Thursday, then head to Washington for the weekend.
Just like Monday night’s offensive smorgasbord, the Tigers scored first Tuesday, although it could’ve been much worse for the Pirates. After retiring leadoff hitter Davis, Volquez allowed a double to left by Ezequiel Carrera and Ian Kinsler‘s RBI single up the middle.
Cabrera lined a single that pushed Kinsler to third, but Volquez made a terrific behind-the-back stab on Victor Martinez‘s sharp comebacker, then threw home to get Kinsler in a rundown. J.D. Martinez‘s flyout ended the threat and kept the Pirates within a run.
Tigers rookie left-hander Robbie Ray got a spot start in place of the injured Anibal Sanchez, and he fell into trouble in the second. Russell Martin drilled a leadoff double to left-center, followed by Gaby Sanchez‘s grounder just past a lunging Cabrera at third.
That made it 1-1 briefly, until Snider’s shallow fly to left dropped behind center fielder Carrera, who appeared to have a bead on the ball before mysteriously letting it go for left fielder Davis.
Josh Harrison‘s double past a stone-footed Cabrera led to Mercer’s RBI single in the third, but Avila cut the Pirates’ lead down to one run with an impressive homer to center in the fourth. After that, Volquez recovered to set down eight of the last 10 Tigers he faced. He overcame some spotty command to strike out five and issue just two walks, both to the dangerous Cabrera.