The Pirates wore down a weak starting pitcher, Kyle Ryan, on Thursday, getting seven shutout innings from Francisco Liriano and beating up on the Tigers' bullpen in an 8-4 win. The victory completed a sweep in Detroit.
Ryan pitched three scoreless innings to start the game, and I worried that the Bucs would have one of those days where a fringy starter shuts them down for no reason. In the course of those three innings, though, Ryan wasn't throwing enough strikes, and he racked up a huge pitch count. There was a seven-pitch walk by Andrew McCutchen in the first, a nine-pitch fly ball out by Jung-Ho Kang in the second, and a ton of five-pitch plate appearances along the way.
Finally, in the fourth, Francisco Cervelli broke a scoreless tie with a solo homer on an 87-MPH fastball. After Ryan started the fifth with two straight walks, the Tigers replaced him after 94 pitches, and the Pirates went to work against the Tigers' bullpen. The Bucs got one run in the fifth on a sacrifice fly, then another in the sixth on a series of singles, the last of them resulting in an RBI for the red-hot Neil Walker. Then Jordy Mercer led off the seventh with a double and came home on a single by Starling Marte, making it 4-0.
Meanwhile, Liriano cruised through seven innings without much trouble, walking three but striking out five. The first sign of trouble for the Bucs came in the eighth, as Antonio Bastardo (who had been so reliable lately) gave up a single to Ian Kinsler and a walk to Miguel Cabrera. Victor Martinez then hit a short fly ball that Mercer made a tough over-the-shoulder play on; that turned out to be important, because two batters later, J.D. Martinez hit a low fastball to right center for a three-run homer. The Bucs then brought in Tony Watson, who got the final out of the inning.
That left the Bucs with only a one-run lead, but it wouldn't stay that way for long. In the top of the ninth, Mercer led off with a single and stole second standing up, and McCutchen hit a deep fly ball that Rajai Davis narrowly missed catching. McCutchen wound up at second, and the Pirates went up 5-4. Marte singled to move McCutchen up to third, and Bruce Rondon hit Cervelli with a pitch two batters later. Then Walker continued his brilliant series with a two-run double to center, his fourth hit of the game. Gregory Polanco walked, and the Pirates tacked on a final run on a groundout by Sean Rodriguez.
Vance Worley gave up a run in the ninth and gave way to Mark Melancon with two on, but Melancon retired Victor Martinez to save an 8-4 victory. The Bucs moved to 12 games over .500 with the win.