Detroit — The Tigers couldn’t have reasonably expected much more out of right-hander Buck Farmer, making his Major League debut after just two starts at Double-A Erie. And, finally, there was some fight-back in the offense.
The result: a much-needed, feel-good 8-4 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday in front of an announced sellout crowd at Comerica Park.
“It becomes so myopic if you look at one game or one week,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It’s a six-month season, so I try not to get focused on one little thing. Certainly we needed this win; it was important for us.
“But the last couple of weeks of play is not indicative of our offense.”
No, but because of the offensive drought the last few weeks, the Tigers had lost four straight and six of seven and had fallen out of first place in the American League Central. Even with the win, they remain a half-game back of the Royals.
But, the win got the needle moving back up, if just for the night.
“We got the big hit that we’ve been looking for,” Ausmus said.
Victor Martinez supplied that. After hitting two three-run home runs against the Rockies in the last series played at Comerica, he knocked in three runs again. A two-out single capped a three-run fifth that erased a 4-1 deficit and a two-run single keyed a three-run seventh that broke the game open.
Nick Castellanos knocked in a pair with his ninth home run and a triple, Alex Avila swatted his 10th home run, and the Tigers rapped out 12 hits against four Pirates pitchers.
But back to the young buck.
“For a guy who was in A ball a month ago, he came up against Major League hitters and gave us a chance to win,” Ausmus said.
Farmer, who started in place of Rick Porcello — who was pressed into emergency relief duty in Toronto over the weekend — didn’t seemed overwhelmed at all. He gave up four runs in five innings. But he threw strikes (57 out of his 83 pitches), showed poise working out of trouble in the second and was victimized by a couple bad bounces in a three-run fourth inning.
“I was really nervous,” said Farmer, whose family made the trip up from Georgia and sat behind home plate. “But after I got started, the nerves settled down and just went from there and did what I know how to do.”
After the Tigers scored first on Castellanos’ two-out triple in the second, the Pirates made good use out of the few balls they hit hard off Farmer.
Russell Martin tied the game with a two-out double in the third, a laser shot to right that Torii Hunter couldn’t flag down. It was Martin’s 1,000th career hit.
The Pirates scored three runs in the fourth, but only one ball was hit hard. Jordy Mercer was credited with a triple on a high-hopping ground ball over third base. The ball took an odd carom and rolled past left fielder Don Kelly. That scored one run and then Travis Snider smacked Farmer’s next pitch into the right field seats.
Through it all, Farmer stayed calm, at least outwardly.
“I’ve been there,” he said. “It’s just one of those things you’ve got to slow the game down. I just took a deep breath, slowed the game down and got back to what I was doing.”
Farmer got the call two days ago during an off day in Erie. On Thursday, he will drive south on I-75 and join Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers will call up reliever Melvin Mercedes from Triple-A Toledo, and not veteran releiver Jim Johnson, who threw two more scoreless innings in Toledo.
But for Farmer, he’s jumped from low-A, to Double-A, to the Major Leagues and then to Triple-A in the span of a month.
“My expectations are always high, that’s just the way I am,” he said. “But I was happy with everything. To go from low-A to here now — I loved every bit of it.”
The bullpen, much overworked of late, shut down the Bucs the rest of the way. Blaine Hardy, who pitched three scoreless innings in the 19-inning marathon in Toronto, put up two more zeroes and picked up the win (2-1). He allowed just a walk in the sixth and seventh.
Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless eighth. Joe Nathan walked the first two batters in the ninth but worked out of it.
Despite the clean victory, there were some mystifying moments for the Tigers. Eugenio Suarez dropped a routine pop up in the second, but was bailed out by the infield fly rule.
The sure-handed Kinsler dropped a foul pop in the fifth, but Farmer pitched through it.
The Tigers offense sputtered early against Pirates’ starter Vance Worley, a pitcher they beat up twice last season when he pitched for the Twins (scoring nine runs in 10.2 innings).
The second inning looked promising after Martinez and Hunter singled. But Don Kelly hit into a double play, and after Castellanos’ triple, he was stranded when Avila struck out.
Miguel Cabrera hit the ball hard to right field three times with only a sacrifice fly to show for it. That RBI came in the three-run fifth.
Eugenio Suarez singled and was safe at second on a botched force out at second by Jayson Nix off the bat of Ezequiel Carrera. Kinsler sacrificed the runners to second and third and the Pirates elected to pitch to Cabrera with first base open.
Cabrera hit a drive to right-center which Gregory Polanco caught right up against the wall. Suarez scored. Martinez then tied the game with a two-out single to center.
There was some bizarre base running by the Tigers in the three-run seventh, too. Carrera, awarded a triple on a ball dropped in deep right center by Polanco, chose not to run home when a pitch to Kinsler scooted to the backstop.
Then, with runners on first and third, no out, and Cabrera at bat, Kinsler stole second. That allowed the Pirates to walk Cabrera intentionally, setting up a force out at the plate. Martinez, though, rendered the strategy moot with a line drive single to right.
All’s well that end’s well. Even for Farmer, who, on his way to Toledo, said, “It was almost surreal coming here and at least getting started and having this opportunity.”