PITTSBURGH (AP)—Jim Leyland would never say so publicly, but he let his players know what’s on his mind: He is back at home in Pittsburgh, and the Detroit Tigers had better not lose there.
Curtis Granderson singled and scored to start the third, then protected a one-run lead by making an excellent leaping catch of Ronny Paulino’s line drive into the left-center gap to end the eighth with the potential tying run on third.
Granderson works daily with a former Gold Glove outfielder who has made numerous exceptional catches in Pittsburgh for Leyland, Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke. As Granderson said, “It’s starting to turn into some good stuff.”
“I was kind of excited when he caught that ball,” said reliever Joel Zumaya, who rooms with Granderson on the road. “I owe him a steak dinner.”
Leyland doesn’t have to go far for his home cooking while managing in PNC Park for the first time against the team that gave him his first big league managerial job in 1986.
Leyland’s house is crowded by friends and family members, and he said, “It’s great when it’s happening, but I’ll be glad when it’s over.”
“Leyland, we wanted to win for him,” Zumaya said. “He kind of busted on us, saying, `Hey we’re going back to my old place, we’d better kick their rear ends.’ It was a little tough, we were a little shaky, but we came out victorious.”
Leyland drew nearly all cheers during the pregame introductions, but joked, “Some of the people booing me were the ones I left tickets for.”
The Tigers are playing well no matter the locale, winning seven in a row and 13 in 14 games to match the same 80-game record of one of the best teams in club history. They are 30 games above .500 at 55-25, the same record as the 1984 World Series championship team that started 35-5.
That they are thriving following five successive seasons of 90 or more losses, and with the manager who wanted to return as Pittsburgh’s skipper last fall but was passed over for Jim Tracy, only makes it worse for the Pirates. They have lost 15 of 17 to fall to 27 games under .500.
The Pirates are on pace for a 14th consecutive losing season and, in a quirky twist, each of the three full-season managers during that streak were on the Tigers’ bench: Leyland (1986-96) and coaches Gene Lamont (1997-2000) and Lloyd McClendon (2001-05).
Worse still for the Pirates: Chris Shelton homered against the club that gave him away in the Rule 5 draft three years ago, following Marcus Thames’ two-run shot in the second against Kip Wells with his 15th homer.
“He’s been struggling a little bit, but the ball was flying—I didn’t think at first it was going to go out,” Leyland said.
The Pirates inexplicably left Shelton unprotected in a draft in which they drew laughter from baseball executives at the 2003 winter meetings by having five of the first six players drafted.
Wells (0-3), the major league leader with 18 losses last season, made a third consecutive poor start since missing the first 2 1/2 months of the season following surgery to repair a blocked artery. He was roughed up for seven runs and six hits in 2 1-3 innings, allowing two homers, a triple, hitting a batter and throwing one of three Pirates wild pitches.
Wells, who has long baffled the Pirates with his inability to win despite having possessing excellent talent, frustrated them again during his 21st loss in 29 decisions the last two seasons. He was ahead in the count to both Thames (0-and-2) and Shelton (0-and-1) only to leave hittable pitches over the plate.
“He was missing with his pitches,” Tracy said. “He’d get ahead of the count, get guys to two strikes but couldn’t finish them off. He couldn’t locate his pitches.”
The Tigers gave Rogers a six-run lead, but he was lifted during a three-run Pirates fifth keyed by Sean Casey’s two-run triple and didn’t last long enough to get the victory. Roman Colon (1-0) pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings for the decision. Zumaya’s throwing error on what looked to be an inning-ending Mike Edwards grounder in the eighth led to Jose Hernandez’s RBI triple, just ahead of the Granderson catch.
Todd Jones pitched the ninth for his 21st save in 24 opportunities. The Pirates put runners on first and second but Jones got Bay to ground out to end the game—the second time in three nights Bay made the final out with the tying run on base.
Thames’ homer was his 16th and came after Magglio Ordonez’s leadoff single. … Wells has a 14.34 ERA. … Pittsburgh is 2-11 against the AL, Detroit is 14-2 against the NL. … The Pirates lead the majors with 23 one-run losses. They are 8-23 in one-run games. … Pirates 3B Freddy Sanchez, the NL’s top hitter with a .363 average going into the night, sat out with back spasms.