Pirates Outlast Tigers In Wild Opener

Chris Mack
March 30, 2018 - 7:58 pm

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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It took over five and a half hours to figure it out, but the Pirates outlasted the Tigers in a wild Opening Day win in Detroit on Friday.

Following a wildly entertaining day across Major League Baseball on Thursday, perhaps the Pirates and Tigers felt they owed the fans at Comerica Park a show after everyone had waited 24 hours and battled temperatures in the upper 30s.

If so, they certainly delivered, even if it wasn’t the prettiest baseball on display.

Multiple lead changes, adventures in fielding on both sides, a game winning play at the plate overturned by replay, an injured umpire, a combined seven runs given up by the two closers, and a game-winning homer by a guy who nearly cost the Bucs the game in right field gave the game a roller coaster feel. 

Gregory Polanco gave the Pirates the win though.

Polanco misplayed a line drive by Leonys Martin that should have been a routine out in the 7th and led to a 4-run Tigers' rally that gave Detroit a 6-4 lead. It was reminiscent of other errors by Polanco not just this spring, but over the years.

He made up for it with offense later, as he doubled in a pair of game-tying runs in the 8th inning and hit a 3-run home run in the top of the 13th that still has yet to land.

It Takes Two(-Seamers) To Make A Thing Go Right

Sometimes you just have to get back to what you know works.

If it’s not working though, what do you do?

Since last April, Ivan Nova has been in search of what will work in absence of a two-seam fastball that was dominant during the best month of his career as he marched to a National League Pitcher of the Month Award with a 1.50 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. Opponents’ Batting Average against that two-seamer last April was just .215.

Nova went back to it early in his Opening Day start Friday in Detroit, but it deceived him once again, the way it did the last four months of 2017, when his walk rate nearly quadrupled.

With nobody out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, Nova had a choice: Keep at the two-seam fastball, or abandon it as he did in the second half of ’17, when he was in full-on struggle mode (5.83 ERA/1.61 WHIP/.309 BAA).

Nova chose to stay with it, and used it to get out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam by striking out Nicholas Castellanos and James McCann around a Victor Martinez groundout.

Again in the 5th inning, with nobody out and the bases loaded, Nova elected to mix it up. Martinez popped up a 4-seamer and McCann grounded a curveball into a rally-killing double play.

Welcome Aboard, Now Get ‘Em Home

Despite what a lot of fans may complain about as an inability to drive in runners in scoring position in 2017, the Pirates were middle of the pack in MLB, ranked 15th hitting .262 with RISP.

Perception may have given in to reality just a bit in the top of the 1st inning when an Adam Frazier lead-off double was left stranded by Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, and Josh Bell.

Bringing in Corey Dickerson though, who’s a career .293 hitter with RISP, should help those ‘clutch’ numbers, and he provided evidence to that end with a base hit in the 4th inning that brought in Polanco and gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead.

Over the course of the five and a half hour war of attrition, the Bucs racked up six 2-out RBIs.

Bullpen Bolstering

After using seven of the eight relievers in his bullpen and watching them combine to throw 167 pitches, it will be interesting to see how Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage manage arms over the next few days. 

With a presumed pitch count on a cold day looming for Saturday's starter Trevor Williams, and Tyler Glasnow the only pitcher who wasn't used today, juggling late inning situations could get sticky. 

Dovydas Neverausaks was the only reliever who didn't throw more than 15 pitches.