Pittsburgh — Here was this crazy baseball team from Motown within a game of that upbeat .500 niche as Wednesday night’s second contest began.
But after a day and night of baseball that lasted eight hours and left a pitching staff feeling as if it had been through a washing machine, the Tigers were left with a doubleheader split at PNC Park, where they outlasted the Pirates, 13-10, in a dizzying first game, before losing the second match, 8-3.
“Yeah, we were in both games,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire after his team used six pitchers in the first contest, and five in the second. “It was a long day. It was a long night. Two pretty good ballgames.
“We kind of just ran out of bullets.”
Matthew Boyd had as tough of a time in the later game as Jordan Zimmermann had in the first contest, all on a day and night when Tuesday’s rainout led to an old-time doubleheader, with back-to-back games that began at 4:05 p.m. and ended just before midnight.
Boyd got whacked for three runs on five consecutive hits in the second inning. The siege came on an evening when he probably should have been in bed. Boyd has had a flu bug harassing him, as a cough and nasal voice confirmed afterward.
“No excuse,” said Boyd, who had been brilliant in his earlier starts. “I’ve been battling it for a few days, but I just got out of my game plan a little tonight and put my team in a hole. That’s on me. Guys (relievers) shouldn’t have to come in in the fourth inning.”
The Tigers got within a pair of runs in the second game but never caught up, despite a long-distance, two-run homer from Leonys Martin in the fifth that chopped the Pirates lead to 4-3.
Martin’s homer, his second in Wednesday’s two games, was a sky-scraping shot that looked as if it would clear the right-field balcony and plop into the Allegheny River. It missed by a couple of rows.
There were too many misses, of all sorts, in the second game. Niko Goodrum blasted a drive against the center-field fence in the fourth that just missed clearing the fence for a two-run homer. The man on base, Nick Castellanos, fearing the ball would be caught, lingered and could only get as far as third base. Both runners were wasted when JaCoby Jones lined into a double-play on which Goodrum was doubled off second.
Another near-miss came in the seventh when Jose Iglesias ripped a liner that looked as if it would land in PNC’s left-field seats, which were all but vacant on another unmercifully cool April night. It instead found Sean Rodriguez’s glove as he somehow spun and snagged it.
One batter later, Victor Martinez, who was pinch-hitting for Daniel Norris at a National League ballpark where the designated hitter is verboten, drove a pitch into the same right-field loft that Martin had earlier visited with his bomb.
But the ball just skidded foul.
“We had chances,” said Gardenhire, whose team will play its series finale against the Pirates at 12:35 Thursday.
It was a happier, and certainly scarier, first game Wednesday for Gardenhire’s gang. The Tigers and Pirates combined for 34 base hits, 20 of them by Detroit, in a game that that lasted 3 hours, 51 minutes, and for the Tigers never seemed secure.
“Not any of these are easy games,” said Gardenhire, whose team had climbed to 10-11 and now rests at 10-12. “But we kept swinging the bats. The ball was flying all over the place.”
The Tigers had huge innings from a stream of Wednesday afternoon sluggers: Jeimer Candelario, with a home run, double, single, and five runs scored. Miguel Cabrera had four hits, three of them doubles. Nick Castellanos also had four hits, including his second homer of the season. Martin had a long home run to right, as well as a bunt single. James McCann had a homer and a double. Jones had a double, a single, a walk, and a screaming lineout to right. Iglesias got involved with two singles.
And yet the Tigers, who at one time were down, 6-3, were up only, 8-7, as late as the fifth inning as their pitching parade too often wilted, beginning with Zimmermann.
They scored three times in the eighth to jump on top, 12-7, and seemingly leave the Pirates floating down the Allegheny. But the recently impeccable Joe Jimenez was scorched for three runs and suddenly it was 12-10.
It was left to Shane Greene to restore order in the ninth, after the Tigers had scored an unearned run, as he gunned down the Pirates in what Wednesday ranked as a rare clean half-inning.
Zimmermann was being counted on, as was Boyd, to keep the bullpen from disintegrating Wednesday. But neither starter got past the fourth.
Zimmermann had a snappy 1-2-3 first in the opener before getting into trouble in the second and third. He was slapped for six runs, three earned, and lasted only three innings. He struck out four. But his ERA sits at 7.91 and until Zimmermann pitches sustained innings more crisply than he managed Wednesday, the Tigers rotation will be under strain hardly imagined when he was signed three years ago to a mammoth five-year deal.
One problem came by way of his defense. In the second, with one out and runners at first and second, Josh Bell smacked a grounder to Iglesias at short. He flipped to Goodrum, who was starting at second base and who handled the relay cleanly ahead of a throw to first base, too late to get Bell for the double play.
It was a force-out at second, scoring Adam Frazier from third. There was now a man at first, Bell, and two out.
Until, that is, the Pirates yelled for a review, saying Goodrum never touched second base on the pivot. The Pirates had it right. Now there were two Pirates aboard. After a follow-up strikeout of Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli launched a soaring three-run homer that made it 6-3, Pirates.
“Little things out of my control,” said Zimmermann, who made it clear the error on Goodrum was a culprit but that “I’ve got to pick up my teammates.”
Zimmermann insisted that “little things like that keep coming back to bite me.” Gardenhire, though, had a slightly different view afterward, and so, perhaps, did a box score that showed Zimmermann giving up six hits and two home runs in three innings.
“Sometimes it looks as if all of his stuff is blending together,” said Gardenhire, suggesting speed differentials perhaps aren’t wide enough to keep hitters off-balance. “Every time he made a bad pitch, they whacked it.
“I think he’s got to slow it down a little bit,” said Gardenhire, who could see Zimmermann was throwing a heavy supply of fastballs, which topped out at 92. “Pitches somehow are blending together.”
Warwick Saupold helped with 1⅔ innings of reasonable relief, while Daniel Stumpf, Buck Farmer, and Alex Wilson — who pitched particularly well — fenced-in the Pirates with only a lone additional run through the seventh. Stump, who worked a scoreless 1⅓ innings, was handed the victory.
Joe Jimenez has been pretty much a choke-hold specialist in the eighth for manager Ron Gardenhire. But even Jimenez had issues Wednesday, allowing three runs on a walk and three hits, the last of which was a booming, two-run double by Cervelli, who finished the day with six RBIs.
All the first-game offense fattened a cluster of Tigers batting averages. Candelario zoomed to .292, Cabrera to .329, and Castellanos to .337. Jones’ two hits boosted him to .304.
Martin’s two hits pumped his average to .278, while his first home run was Wednesday’s most improbable hit.
Martin led off the game against Pirates starter Jameson Taillon and fouled a pitch hard into his groin. He lay on the ground for long minutes, then spent at least as long standing, walking, and regaining his breath, all as he fought to rediscover some semblance of normal life in his midsection.
“He wasn’t feeling very good,” said Gardenhire, who was alongside Martin throughout, and who got immediate word from Martin that he would be fine — in time.
“He was not coming out of the game.”
Nor was he giving away any at-bats. Two homers followed. Two tough games were played. But a divided doubleheader was as good as it was going to get Wednesday for Martin and for the Tigers.