Neil Walker Bobblehead Night might not be until Saturday night, but the Pirates’ second baseman had plenty of heads spinning in the Tigers’ dugout on Friday as interleague play kicked off.
Walker drove in a career-high five runs and Jeff Karstens retired the first 14 Detroit hitters that he faced as the Bucs battered the Tigers 10-1 at PNC Park. Jose Tabata reached based four times, Lyle Overbay went deep and Garrett Jones ripped a two-run double for the Pirates (21-23), who established a new season high in runs scored and tied a season best with seven walks.
“It was a good night,” Walker said. “It was a good win for us. Karstens went out and threw the ball really well for us, the bullpen did a great job and offensively, we got a great team effort today.”
While the Bucs were busy plating runs, Karstens (3-2) declawed the Tigers’ lineup while earning his first victory since April 23. Karstens was perfect through 4.2 innings, until Andy Dirks finally gave Detroit (22-22) its first base runner of the night by fighting off an inside fastball for a single to shallow center field.
“I thought [Karstens] and Ryan [Doumit] did a real nice job of following through on the game plan,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. [Karstens’] fastball was down, he mixed in his off-speed pitches and he hit his spots. He stayed away from the barrel, really, with the exception of just a couple swings.”
Detroit scratched only one run off Karstens in six innings, as Ramon Santiago hit a solo home run to right field in the top of the sixth. Brennan Boesch lofted changeup high into the night sky later in the inning after an Austin Jackson double, but the ball died at the right field warning track to squelch the threat.
Karstens struck out four hitters, walked none and allowed just three hits. He also induced eight ground ball outs.
“Dewey did a great job back there,” Karstens said. “We just talked about it before the game, trying to keep them off balance. They’re a very good fastball-hitting team, especially [Miguel] Cabrera and [Victor] Martinez. Just try to stay out of situations where they can hurt us.”
Though Cabrera collected two hits after Karstens exited the game, the Bucs’ starter got the slugger to line out and ground out. Martinez grounded out and flied out against Karstens.
“I wish I had a couple extra gears like Verlander does, but I don’t really have that,” Karstens said. “I think I topped out about 89 [MPH], so, I just try to pitch my ball game, have fun and keep my guys into it.”
Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop and Jose Ascanio each threw an inning of scoreless relief to finish out the game.
Tigers starter Brad Penny entered the bottom of the sixth relatively unscathed. To that point, he had surrendered just one run on a single to Doumit in the fourth frame that scored Jose Tabata, who finished 2-for-3 with two walks. But Penny’s Houdini act — he got Ronny Cedeno to ground out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, and Walker to fly out with runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth — ended abruptly.
Lyle Overbay, who hit deep drives to the center and left field warning tracks in his first two at-bats, finally cleared the fence with a shot into the Tigers’ bullpen on a first-pitch fastball to lead off the sixth.
After a Doumit ground out, Penny issued a four-pitch walk to Brandon Wood. Cedeno then hooked a sinker to right field with Wood in motion, putting runners on the corners on the hit and run.
Hurdle sent up pinch-hitter Matt Diaz to hit for Karstens. Diaz chopped a ground ball to Santiago, but the would-be inning-ending double play went awry. Scott Sizemore received Santiago’s throw to second base to force out Cedeno. Sizemore’s toss to first base was up the line, however, skipping past a sprawled out Miguel Cabrera and allowing Wood to score the Bucs’ third run of the game.
Andrew McCutchen drew a walk off Penny, putting runners on first and second and prompting Tigers manager Jim Leyland to pull his starter in favor of Brayan Villarreal.
The rookie reliever only poured gasoline on the fire. With Tabata at the plate, Diaz and McCutchen executed a double-steal to put runners on second and third base. Tabata took another Pirates free pass, juicing the bases for the heart of the order.
Jones and Walker proceeded to blow the game wide open, as Jones muscled a 94 MPH fastball on the outside corner for a two-run double and Walker followed with a two-run two-bagger of his own, swatting an outside changeup to deep left field to put the Pirates ahead 7-1.
Hurdle contemplated keeping Karstens, who had thrown just 75 pitches, in the game instead of pinch-hitting with Diaz. But he decided to play for the big inning.
“Two to one, we’ve got a chance to roll it, maybe blow it open,” Hurdle said. “Really, the gamble was just the hit and run. That was either going to make it or break it, because if we make an out, he [Karstens] is going back out.”
“We tried to roll the dice and create a big inning, and the guys followed through. We got some of those hits that we’ve been looking for.”
Penny hadn’t walked a batter in his previous three starts, but he dished out five base on balls against the Bucs while throwing 53 of his 105 pitches for strikes. The right-hander labored through 5.2 innings, surrendering five earned runs on six hits while punching out four batters.
Walker, meanwhile, wasn’t done punishing the Tigers just yet. After Tabata worked a two-out walk off Jose Valverde in the eighth and Jones singled, Walker bashed his sixth homer of the season by depositing a splitter into the right field stands.
“And it’s bobblehead day tomorrow too, so he’s got a sense for the dramatic,” Hurdle said with a smile. “He works hard every day. He’s got a lot invested in this organization, he’s got ties here that are real and that have substance.”
“With all the weight this kid carries around anyway, I decide to slide him in the cleanup spot, you know, just throw another little rock in his bag to carry around,” Hurdle said. “And he’s handled that better than anyone we’ve had this season to put a foot down in that four-spot. He’s done a real nice job with it.”
NAGGING QUAD INJURY KNOCKS ALVAREZ OUT OF LINEUP
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez had a big series against the Reds, belting a 418 foot homer on Wednesday and drawing two walks on Thursday. But Alvarez’s warming bat was kept out of the lineup Friday night by lingering soreness in his right quadriceps. He originally suffered the injury on May 3 against the San Diego Padres and aggravated it last Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Brandon Wood started at the hot corner in Alvarez’s place Friday night, going 0-for-2 at the plate and working two walks out of the seventh spot in the lineup.
FORMER BUCS MANAGERS ABOUND IN VISITORS’ DUGOUT
Three former Pirates managers are in town this weekend with the Tigers. Detroit manager Jim Leyland (1986-1996), third base coach Gene Lamont (1997-2000) and batting coach Lloyd McClendon (2001-2005) skippered the Bucs for a combined two decades.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has a connection to Leyland, too — in 1999, Hurdle was the hitting coach in Colorado during Leyland’s sole season at the helm of the Rockies.
Max Scherzer (6-0, 2.81 ERA) will look to stay undefeated while matching up with Kevin Correia (5-4, 3.97 ERA), who is still seeking his first win as a Pirate at PNC Park.