The Pirates pitched their 9th shutout of the season, and second 11-inning shutout against the Tigers, and Russell Martin hit a walkoff single off the wall to beat Detroit 1-0 Thursday night.
Russell Martin smacked a fastball 400 feet to the North Shore Notch to score Neil Walker and the game’s only run. Walker had been held at third base with no outs on Gaby Sanchez’s single to left the previous at-bat.
“Obviously he probably wanted it in a different spot,” Martin said about his walkoff winner. “Off the bat, it felt good.”
Jeff Locke, Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon and Bryan Morris combined to quiet one of baseball’s loudest offenses and allow the Pirates (34-20) take the third of four games against the defending American League-champion Tigers (29-23).
“They got a great lineup over there,” Mazzaro said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Both teams had opportunities to score in the middle innings that were negated by making outs on the basepaths.
In the Bottom 4th, Walker led off with a ground-ball single to left field, but catcher Brayan Pena threw him out at second base (no missed sign there, Walker said). Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones followed up with singles to make three straight hits, but Tigers pitcher Doug Fister struck out Martin and got Travis Snider to fly out.
Fister notched a season-high 12 strikeouts (most since 2011) and scattered five baserunners over his seven shutout innings. The Pirates’ hitters struck out at least 11 times for their fifth straight game, setting a new franchise record, but went 4-1 over those contests.
Detroit’s Missed Chances
But the Tigers could do one better! Matt Tuiasosopo and Pena singled off Locke to start the 5th, then right fielder Travis Snider tossed a cannon home to throw out Tuiasosopo at home plate on Avisail Garcia’s single. Fister then hit a bloop single into left to load the bases. Pena was retired on third baseman Brandon Inge leaping and snagging a chopper, then throwing home to record a fielder’s choice. Locke got Andy Dirks to ground out to end the inning. The Tigers hit four straight singles, but did not score any runs.
“It was as big as anything that happened tonight,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about the 5th-inning escape.
The Tigers nearly scored off Locke in the 6th. With one out, Prince Fielder singled to left field then Jhonny Peralta walked on five pitches to end Locke’s evening at 96 pitches. Mazzaro entered with what Hurdle calls a “power sinker” to strike out Tuiasosopo and get Pena to ground out.
“Coming in I just wanted to keep it low,” Mazzaro said. “Get that two-seamer, keep it down and try to get a double play… get them to roll over.”
Mazzaro got out of more trouble in the 7th. Garcia drew a leadoff walk, was bunted over by Fister, then reached third on Omar Infante’s single to left field. Garcia did not test Starling Marte’s arm, though, and Mazzaro got Dirks to pop out and Cabrera to ground out and keep the game scoreless.
The Tigers collected nine hits but zero runs for the first time since July 2011 and stranded 10 runners on base.
Locke Strong Again
The Pirates’ starter gave up seven hits and one walk, and he struck out only three hitters. But the sharp outing dropped both his season FIP (4.27 to 4.12) and his ERA (2.45 to 2.25). Locke stranded five runners, though, and got 10 ground ball outs to extend his scoreless inning streak to 19.1 straight frames.
“The defense is huge,” Locke said. “I’ve been using them all year, and I’ll continue to use them.”
At one point in the 4th, Locke threw three straight called strikes on the inside edge to Jhonny Peralta. A frustrated Peralta argued the calls with home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez after the at-bat and was subsequently ejected.
“He was giving that pitch to us,” catcher Martin said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to Jeff Locke for executing that same pitch over and over again.”
Locke said he feels comfortable painting the corners of the strike zone with Martin behind the plate.
“Russ even takes the ones that might be just a little off and brings it back in,” Locke said.
Round 11 Knockout
The third inning was the only frame in which the Bucs got a runner into scoring position — until the 11th. After Melancon and Morris both pitched 1-2-3 innings, the Bucs finally struck.
Walker hit a first-pitch single to right field off reliever Luke Putkonen (in his second inning of work), followed by McCutchen walking on four pitches and Sanchez lining a single into left. Walker had to hesitate with Cabrera standing along the baseline.
“One out, it might be a different story,” Walker said. “But nobody out, I think that’s a play every third base coach will make.”
Walker stayed put and Martin scored him with the game-winner over the heads of the shifted-in Tigers outfielders, igniting the black-and-gold contingent of 20,834 fans at PNC Park.
“It’s the sign of a good team, when we can all chip in and do it together,” Martin said. “When we have a situation or an opportunity, we’re making it happen.”
Walker and Martin were the only two Pirates to collect more than one hit.
The Pirates snapped their MLB-best streak of 48 straight games with an extra-base hit and left 10 runners on base for the first time since May 17. One run was enough, and as early as the season is, the Bucs now sit five games ahead of the last playoff spot in the National League.
Throwing Up Zeros
Pittsburgh’s nine shutouts in two months give the 2013 team a shot at the 1992 Pirates’ Retrosheet-era record for most shutouts in a season (20). The 1992 staff is also the only Pirates team to collect more than 15 shutouts since the mounds were lowered in 1969.
Can this year’s staff do it? Well, pulling off two extra-inning shutouts against the first-place Tigers gives you a sign.
“It’s always good to come out with a series win, especially with a team that is that good,” Morris said. “They’re a good team.”