DETROIT - The Pittsburgh Pirates whiffed their way through another nine innings, but the biggest pitch of the day might have been the one their catcher missed.
With runners on first and second in a tie game in the seventh, reliever Tony Watson's fastball handcuffed Rod Barajas. The runners moved up a base, Pittsburgh had to bring the infield in, and Detroit's Alex Avila hit a two-run single up the middle, sending the Tigers to a 4-3 victory Sunday.
"They had a runner on second, so I went out to the mound and changed the signs, and then I called that pitch with the old signs," Barajas said. "Watty threw exactly what I called, but I thought I had called for a slider and I had actually called for a fastball. That's entirely on me."
Max Scherzer (3-3) struck out 15 - the most by a Detroit pitcher in 40 years. He threw 115 pitches in seven innings and was done for the day when the Tigers came back from a 2-1 deficit while he was still the pitcher of record. Detroit scored three in the seventh, and Avila's single made it 4-2.
Pittsburgh struck out 17 times in the game and 41 times in the three-game series.
Detroit was without center fielder Austin Jackson (abdominal strain) and closer Jose Valverde (lower back strain), but the Tigers ended up taking two of three from Pittsburgh. Scherzer and Justin Verlander bookended the series with brilliant pitching performances. Verlander threw a one-hit shutout Friday night, striking out 12 and giving up only a ninth-inning single to Josh Harrison.
Tonight: New York Mets at Pittsburgh, 7:05 p.m.
Pitching matchups: Mets LHP?Johan Santana (1-2) vs. Pirates LHP?Erik?Bedard (2-5)
"We're walking out of this series thinking we could have won two, but we also ran into two very good pitchers that were as good as I've ever seen them, and I've seen quite a bit of them," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh scored a run in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit, but he held on for his first save this season.
Kevin Correia (1-5) allowed three runs and four hits in six-plus innings.
Scherzer's 15 strikeouts were the most by a major league pitcher this year. Miami's Anibal Sanchez had 14 against Arizona on April 28.
Neil Walker hit a 407-foot homer in the sixth, and Scherzer's pitch count began creeping up, precluding a run at the big league record of 20 strikeouts for a nine-inning game. Scherzer was actually on the hook for a loss when Detroit manager Jim Leyland offered a handshake after the top of the seventh, the signal that a reliever would be entering in the eighth.
But Prince Fielder led off the bottom half with a bloop double to left that dropped between shortstop Clint Barmes and left fielder Nate McLouth.
Delmon Young followed with a tying single, and Watson relieved Correia.
"That whole inning was tough," Barajas said. "Prince hits a bloop double, which is something you have to risk with the shift, and then I let one get away, and then they get a bleeder up the middle."
Game notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates say they have acquired minor league infielder Drew Sutton from the Atlanta Braves for cash. Sutton has hit .270 in 38 games with Triple-A Gwinnett.