It was a tight, exciting game, all the way to the final at bat - but it was Pittsburgh’s defense that gifted Detroit three runs and ultimately cost them the game.
It was also a game where Michael Feliz and Clay Holmes looked like dominant relievers and Kyle Crick didn’t, failing to preserve an eighth inning tie.
Mitch Keller didn’t allow any runs in the first inning.
This despite throwing fastballs on twelve of his first fifteen pitches. Nicholas Castellanos did draw a one out walk, but Keller got Miguel Cabrera to strike out swinging and Christin Stewart to fly out. Twenty pitches, but no runs.
The Tigers’ starter Daniel Norris has been struggling for much of the last three seasons, but it didn’t show on this night. He was working fast and changing speeds, but did give up the first run of the game when Josh Bell led off the second with his 20th homer of the year, a 419 foot blast into the seats in right center. Two batters later Elias Diaz doubled off the wall, nearly to the same spot, but Norris buckled down and settled in, retiring the next eight batters.
After requiring thirteen pitches to strike out JaCoby Jones and the pitcher Norris to open the third, Keller lost his command on four straight very wide pitches to walk the leadoff hitter Niko Woodrum. Finding the zone again, Castellanos turned one around, rifling a double into center to score Woodrum with the tying run, and two pitches later Cabrera hit a sharp grounder up the middle for a single to score Castellanos. 2-1 Tigers.
After the Pirates where out on nine pitches in the third, their defense fell apart in the fourth. Brandon Dixon started the inning with a ground single to center and when Harold Castro attempted to bunt the runner up, Keller threw the ball into the seats behind first baseman Bell, putting runners at second and third. John Hick then hit a bouncer to third that Jung-ho Kang whiffed on, the ball passing under his glove and out into left field for another error that let both runners score. 4-1 Tigers.
It was Diaz, the last batter to reach against Norris, that broke the streak, singling to start the fifth, then racing home when Kang laced a triple past a diving Jones and to the wall in center field - but there he would stay as no one get get him home.
Michael Feliz came on in relief and was throwing strikes. After a nine pitch sixth he came out for a second inning, finishing with just one baserunner, a walk, while striking out a pair.
Down two in the seventh, the Pirates’ bats rallied. With one out, Kang reached second when the new pitcher Victor Alcantara’s throw on his grounder skipped past first base. Adam Frazier’s ground out sent Kang to third with two outs, but this time he scored when Colin Moran lined a pinch-hit single to left, then Kevin Newman lined a triple into the right field corner to score the pinch-runner Joe Musgrove. With the lead run at third, Bryan Reynolds walked but Starling Marte went fishing on a ball in the dirt to strike out and end the threat - but they were going to the eighth with the game tied at four.
Kyle Crick entered, but after four foul balls Castellanos drew a one-out walk. Cabrera dropped a single into left, then Stewart was grazed on the foot by a curve to load the bases, a call made when the Tigers demanded the umpires check the replay. With the bases loaded and one out, Dixon hit a one-hopper back to the mound which eluded Crick but was straight at the second baseman Frazier. Instead of flipping the ball the short distance to Newman at second, Frazier went for the runner and failign to make a tag then threw to first to salvage one out, but the failure to turn a double play let Castellanos score the lead run.
Clay Holmes allowed an infield single in the ninth, but finished a scoreless inning on only eight pitches.
To the bottom of the ninth, and in came the Tigers’ closer Shane Green, with 20 saves in 21 opportunities, to protect a one-run lead. Newman led off lining a 1-2 pitch past third for a single. Reynolds popped out, but Marte showed newfound discipline and watched threw straight breaking pitches down and away as he drew only his ninth walk of the year. The tying run at second, the winning run at first, great speed on the bases with only one out and the major league’s RBI leader at the plate. Josh Bell then hit a one-hopper back at the pitcher, which Green converted into a 1-6-3 double play. Game over.
The loss to the Tigers, who are already 20 games behind the front running Twins in their division, kept the Pirates in the cellar in theirs, 8.0 games behind the Brewers and 1.5 behind the fourth place Reds.
The short two games series concludes Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Eastern, when Jordan Zimmermann (0-4, 5.93) faces Trevor Williams (2-1, 3.33), as both pitchers return from the injured list. Zimmermann has been out since April 25 with a right elbow UCL sprain, while Williams has been out since May 16 with a right side strain.