Despite my pre-game predictions of doom for both pitchers, Jeanmar Gomez and Rick Porcello both came out dealing after tonight's rain delay. Porcello absolutely dominated the Pirates in his eight innings, holding the Bucs to three hits and a walk while striking out 11 batters (quite a feat for him), getting nine groundouts to go with just two flyouts, and only needing 99 pitches on top of it all. He was the Ideal Realization of Everything Rick Porcello Can Be tonight, and there just wasn't much the Pirates could do about it. Jeanmar Gomez, meanwhile, was just the same inexplicably successful pitcher that he's been for the Pirates all year. He only struck out two hitters in his seven innings and while he got a bunch of groundouts (10) he also gave up some flyouts (7), but he scattered three hits and a walk and the Tigers never even threatened against him. I don't want to waste too much time on how hard it is to figure out where Gomez's success is coming from this year, but if you would've told me in March that May was going to end without the Pirates losing a game that Jeanmar Gomez started, I would've laughed and said, "So, he didn't start any games at all then?"
And so the Pirates and Tigers trotted out their weakest starters and both got a string of zeroes on the scoreboard. Zeroes for Gomez through seven, zero for Porcello through eight. Justin Wilson came in and worked two scoreless innings for the Pirates while Joaquin Benoit worked a scoreless ninth for the Tigers and things went to extra innings without a run being scored. Neither team even had an extra base hit.
Both teams got leadoff singles in the tenth. Both teams bunted that runner to second. Neither team managed to score. Mark Melancon walked a tightrope in his half of the tenth; after issuing his second walk of the year to Omar Infante, Brayan Pena fouled off six straight cutters all over various parts of the strike zone and its surrounding environs (the first one was 91 mph, the next five were 92 mph) before Melancon dropped a beautiful 82-mph curveball on the outside part of the plate to get him swinging. Then he jammed Andy Dirks on the first pitch with a cutter to get a broken-bat groundout to Gaby Sanchez at first and send the game to the 11th inning.
As the top of the 11th inning started, what I had in mind was the bottom of the 11th. The Tigers would have Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder due up. Melancon threw 22 pitches in the tenth, which would likely rule him out of the 11th should the game still be tied. Would Clint Hurdle use his closer in a tie game in the 11th? If not, who would face the heart of the Tigers' order? Bryan Morris? Vin Mazzaro? Tony Watson? None of those options seemed good. I puzzled through Starling Marte's at-bat, and then Neil Walker rendered all of my puzzling moot by whacking a hanging slider from Jose Ortega over the right-field wall. From April 1st to May 23rd, Walker only had five extra base hits. From May 24th through May 28th, Walker has five extra base hits.
Walker's homer brought Jason Grilli out to face Hunter, Cabrera, and Fielder. Grilli struck out Hunter, made Miguel Cabrera look terrible with two bad swings at sliders in a four-pitch strikeout, then blew a 95 mph fastball on the outside part of the plate past Prince Fielder after Fielder had fouled off three of four pitches. What can be said about Grilli's work that hasn't been said already? Not only is Grilli routinely spectacular, but he also seems to have another gear for the especially huge moments. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter on the planet right now, and he looked dumb against Grilli. Overpowering Prince Fielder to end the game seemed like a foregone conclusion when it happened.
This is what I was talking about before the game: Monday's loss was really frustrating, but it's hard to wallow in it after an electric win like this one. The Pirates are 32-20. This is fun.