The home run was the second of Walker’s day, and Walker accounted for both of Pittsburgh’s hits off Sanchez through six. Meanwhile, Detroit built a 3-1 lead after a RBI double by Andy Dirks and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning.
With the lead in hand and Sanchez rolling after six, the Tigers appeared well on their way to victory.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of hittable pitches,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sanchez was so effective, he mixed his pitches so well. It was hard to sit on anything, he wasn’t in the middle of the plate.”
But then the Pirates finally broke through against Sanchez and scored four runs on five hits before Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled him off the mound with two outs in the seventh. The highlight of the inning came not on Pedro Alvarez’s two-RBI, game-tying double but was instead a perfectly executed suicide-squeeze bunt laid down by Jordy Mercer to bring Travis Snider home from third.
“Jones started it off, we got a walk, we got a couple balls that, I mentioned before, that if there were a couple mistakes made over the plate we needed to barrel up and we were able to do that,” Hurdle said.
Mercer’s RBI bunt-single completed a seventh inning that saw the Pirates (33-20) vault from trailing Detroit (29-22) by two runs to winning by two runs, 5-3, at its conclusion.
“It just seemed like a time to push the envelope a little bit and try and get another run,” Hurdle said. “[We] had a guy up there that can handle the bat, thought we might try and get a tight pitch, fastball tight, I don’t know, the infield’s in.”
The inning started with a flyout by Andrew McCutchen to right field, but Garrett Jones followed with a single and Russell Martin drew the first walk of the day off Sanchez. Alvarez then stepped to the dish and delivered his game-tying extra-base hit, and then scored the go-ahead run on the next swing of the bat after Snider doubled.
“It’s the same mindset every guy in this clubhouse has, different guys on any different occasion come up with a big hit,” Snider said about his double. “For us, it’s just a matter of going out and trying to exploit mistakes.”
The double for Alvarez—now hitting .139 at PNC Park this season—drove in his 28th and 29th runs of the season to give him the team RBI lead solely. Despite striking out twice against Sanchez earlier in the game, Alvarez got a fastball elevated and rode it into left-center field for two bases.
“I was just ready to hit and he made a pitch good enough to hit,” Alvarez said. “I was ready to hit the fastball and trying to react to anything else.”
After the inning, Hurdle handed the ball to Tony Watson who worked a scoreless eighth to set up Jason Grilli in the ninth. Facing Miguel Cabrera with two outs, a man on, and a 5-3 lead, Cabrera swung at the first pitch he saw from the Pirates’ closer and flew out to the warning track in right field.
The relievers followed the shutout seventh pitched by Bryan Morris (2-2) who hit Torii Hunter to lead off the inning, but got Cabrera to ground into a double play and Prince Fielder to ground out to second and earn his second win of the season in the process.
Grilli notched his 22nd save of the season—the most in the majors—and the Pirates are now 25-1 in 2013 when leading after seven innings.
While Grilli finished the Pirates’ victory on the mound, A.J. Burnett started Wednesday and ended his outing with a no decision. Burnett pitched through six innings, and allowed three runs to score on five hits and four walks.
“You do what you gotta do until he takes you, and I left it out there again,” Burnett said. “I probably should’ve made a little bit of a better pitch to Miggy, and I started to feel somewhat of a groove in the middle innings but then it got away from me again.”
In addition, Burnett struck out only four batters—his lowest total out of any start this season. But Burnett kept the Pirates close and stretched out his start to give Pittsburgh a chance to win Wednesday.
“He’s a pro, and his responsibility is to set the tone for that entire rotation,” Hurdle said. “He gave us a chance to manage the game, and stay in the game.”
Keeping the Pirates close enough to strike allowed Pittsburgh to complete a comeback in the seventh and take home the team’s 19th victory in the month of May. The victory was also the eighth such time Pittsburgh won a game despite trailing after six innings.
“You just gotta continue to play the game and stay calm, like we talked about earlier feelings aren’t facts,” Hurdle said. “We just kept playing and looking for some opportunities to create something.”