PITTSBURGH (AP) — Neil Walker homered and drove in a career-high five runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates past the Detroit Tigers 10-1 on Friday night.
Walker’s two-run double in the sixth off Detroit reliever Brayan Villarreal helped break open a tight game. Walker later added a three-run homer in the ninth as the Pirates won their third straight, matching their longest winning streak of the season.
Jeff Karstens (3-2) put together his best performance of the year. He retired the first 14 he faced and gave up just one run on three hits in six innings, striking out four without issuing a walk.
Brad Penny (5-5) took the loss after suffering a rare bout with wildness. He surrendered five runs in 5 2-3 innings, thanks in part to a season-high five walks, as the Tigers lost their fourth in a row.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who served as Pittsburgh’s manager from 1986-96, said before the game he’s impressed with the foundation the Pirates have put in place. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season since Leyland guided them to the National League East title in 1992. The Pirates lost 105 games a year ago but have remained competitive so far this spring behind the play of a surprisingly consistent pitching staff.
The group includes Karstens, who started the year coming out of the bullpen, but was thrust into a starting role when Ross Ohlendorf went down with right shoulder injury.
Though Karstens hasn’t been dominant, he has been effective. He stayed that way against the Tigers by following manager Clint Hurdle’s advice and changing speeds effectively. It was enough to hold one of the American League’s most potent offenses in check.
Detroit didn’t get a baserunner until Brennan Boesch’s two-out flare to center with two outs in the fifth. Karstens’ only mistake of the night came on a fastball he left up in the zone while pitching to Ramon Santiago in the sixth. Santiago responded by depositing the pitch into the right-field seats for his first home run of the season to tie it at 1.
It didn’t stay tied for long.
Lyle Overbay led off the bottom of the inning with a drive over the center-field wall, and then the Pirates — who came in hitting just .236 on the season — really went to work.
Penny did little to help himself. He came in having won four of his previous five starts, posting an ERA of 1.51 over that span, with six walks. He nearly matched that Friday, when 52 of his 105 pitches failed to hit the strike zone. Still, he managed to avoid any real trouble until the sixth.
Overbay’s blast sparked a six-run outburst as Pittsburgh’s patience paid off. Brandon Wood worked for a walk and later put the Pirates up 3-1 on a fielders’ choice by Matt Diaz. Penny finally exited after walking Andrew McCutchen one batter later.
Things didn’t get any better when the struggling Villarreal came on. He walked Jose Tabata to load the bases and Garrett Jones followed with a double to center that pushed the lead to 5-1. Walker then drilled a double of his own to left to give Pittsburgh more than enough breathing room.
That matched Pittsburgh’s best inning of the season, as the Pirates also plated six in the third inning of a win in San Diego on May 4.
The Pirates won three straight from May 7-9, the last of which put them over .500 at 18-17. But six consecutive losses followed and the team appeared on the verge of another spring swoon. Instead, they responded by sweeping a pair of games at Cincinnati then backed it up with their biggest offensive output of the year.
The Tigers, who seemed to right themselves with a seven-game winning streak earlier this month, have scored all of six runs during their four-game skid.
Notes: The Pirates gave third baseman Pedro Alvarez the day off after he tweaked his quadriceps, which forced him to sit out five games earlier in the month. … Penny issued his first walk since May 3 when Ronny Cedeno earned a free pass in the bottom of the third, a span of 22 1-3 innings. … Detroit’s Austin Jackson extended his hitting streak to 12 — the longest of his career — with a double in the sixth. … A crowd of 24,396 turned out, the second-highest attended weeknight game of the year.
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