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Saltalamacchia slam is key to Tigers victory

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Pittsburgh — Before taking the mound Wednesday, Shane Greene had thrown one inning all season. That was on Opening Day in Miami. He came on in the 11th and got the save.

He hadn’t started a game in two weeks.

“Yeah, I was a little excited,” he said. “I was rushing myself a little bit.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, Pirates 3

Greene struggled through a 35-pitch first inning. He gave up two singles, one an infield hit, walked two (on eight straight pitches). But when the dust settled, only two runs had scored.

From that point on he was razor sharp and the Tigers, behind a grand slam by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, beat the Pirates, 7-3, at PNC Park.

“Once I calmed down, I was good to go,” Greene said. “Once I settled down, my timing was on point and everything came along with it.”

He retired 14 of 15 batters from the end of the first through one out in the sixth. He walked David Freese in the third, but promptly erased him with a double-play ball.

Freese singled in the sixth, but Greene retired the next two batters to complete his night.

After the 35-pitch first inning, he needed just 62 pitches to get through the next five. He struck out Andrew McCutchen three times, all swinging.

“He was in a tough situation,” Saltalamacchia said. “Missing starts as a young pitcher and then making his debut for the season, he was extremely amped up. But he did a great job of coming out the next inning and making some great, great pitches.”

His fastball, which was hitting 95 and 96 mph in the first inning, settled down to 91-92 but with movement. His cutter baffled the Pirates hitters all night and he mixed in a sharp slider.

“The cutter was really good and he was getting some bad swings on the slider,” Saltalamacchia said. “He didn’t miss over the middle of the plate to a good group of hitters. This win was all on him.”

Well, not all on him.

The Tigers could do very little against Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong for three innings — bringing back memories of Game 3 of the 2012 World Series against the Giants when he shut the Tigers out for five-plus innings.

But Ian Kinsler led off the fourth with his third home run of the season — a long blast to the shrubbery in dead center field. Kinsler didn’t hit his third home run last season until July 9.

Vogelsong departed after five innings and the sixth did not go well for reliever Arquimedes Caminero.

He got the first two batters out, then gave up a two-strike double to Miguel Cabrera. J.D. Martinez, who doubled earlier to extend his season-long hit streak to seven games, worked a walk.

The game turned on the next two pitches. Nick Castellanos singled on the first pitch he saw to load the bases. And Saltalamacchia followed, hitting the first pitch into the bleachers in right field.

“I was looking fastball,” Saltalamacchia said. “The guys in front of me didn’t try to do too much, just a single here, single there. My job with two outs was just to try and get a fastball. Really, I was just trying to hit it over the shortstop’s head, trying not to get too big.

“He threw a slider that was down and in into a left-hander’s swing.”

It was the 100th home run of his career and his fourth grand slam. Afterward, the fan who caught the ball traded it back to Saltalamacchia for a new one with an autograph.

“Of course it means a lot,” Saltalamacchia said of his milestone. “This game isn’t easy. To be able to have enough time in to be able to accomplish something like that is a great feeling. And to be able to help us get a lead and win makes it even better.”

That left the game in the hands of the Tigers rebuilt back end of the bullpen.

Justin Wilson, who pitched three seasons in Pittsburgh, breezed through the seventh with a pair of strikeouts.

Ausmus initially had Wilson go back out for the eighth. The pitcher’s spot was due up and he wanted to keep left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce on the bench. When right-handed-hitting Sean Rodriguez was announced to pinch-hit, Ausmus brought in right-handed-throwing Mark Lowe.

Good idea, but Lowe walked Rodriguez and gave up a run-scoring double to McCutchen. Justin Upton leaped at the wall and nearly made a sensational catch.

Lowe worked out of the eighth without further damage.

The Tigers answered back in the top of the ninth. Walks to Jose Iglesias and pinch-hitter Victor Martinez, sandwiched around a single by Anthony Gose, loaded the bases. Kinsler’s sacrifice fly scored one run and a two-out single by J.D. Martinez plated another.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez worked a quick ninth to close out the Tigers' third straight road win in a National League park.