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PITTSBURGH -- Three runs doesn't exactly seem like an insurmountable deficit, but with the way Detroit's hitters have performed lately, it might has well have been 30.
For the fourth game in a row, the Tigers could not muster more than two runs, and they made Pirates starter Brad Lincoln -- who had gone 0-2 with a 10.03 ERA in his last three starts -- look downright extraordinary. Detroit didn't even register a hit until the sixth inning, losing in Pittsburgh for the second day in a row, 4-1, on Saturday.
"You've got to give them credit. Their pitching has been stellar," catcher Alex Avila said. "Their guy, Lincoln, today was unbelievable. Their bullpen has been great all season. Definitely hard to get some runs."
Thanks to a strong start from Max Scherzer (6-5), the Tigers had a fighting chance right up until the fourth inning. That's when Scherzer faltered, serving up an 0-2 pitch to Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who belted the ball into the left-field seats for a three-run homer.
"I thought Max did a heck of a job," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm sure he'd like to have one pitch back. He was trying to go down and away on Andrew, and he got it in -- up a little bit, and in, obviously -- for the three-run homer. Other than that I thought he did a terrific job.
"The story line, basically, is no runs. We haven't been scoring any runs lately -- very few runs in the last four or five ballgames, really."
Scherzer made the start after spending time away from the Tigers earlier this week following the death of his brother, Alex, who passed away on Thursday. He was unavailable for comment.
"It's hard to imagine. It's hard to put into words what he's feeling right now," Avila said. "He's a tough guy. We're all here for him."
Detroit's only run came in the top of the seventh, when Miguel Cabrera led off with a laser over the fence in right-center. That led to the removal of Lincoln (4-2) by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who turned over the game to Juan Cruz and a Pirates bullpen that is among the best in the National League.
Prince Fielder followed Cabrera's bomb with an opposite-field double but would advance no farther than third base. Delmon Young and Avila grounded out, and Jhonny Peralta ended the inning with a deep shot to center that died on the warning track.
Though he acknowledged Lincoln's effectiveness, Leyland said, "You can't keep crediting opposing pitchers every night."
Detroit had a fine scoring chance in the sixth, as well. Ramon Santiago led off with a sharply hit single through the right side, breaking up Lincoln's no-no. The next batter, Scherzer, did his part by advancing Santiago with a bunt, but neither Austin Jackson nor Brennan Boesch could drive in Santiago from second.
It wasn't just that the Tigers didn't hit in timely situations. They barely hit at all. Saturday's game marked the 19th time this year that they scored two runs or fewer.
"We have to get some more consistency throughout the lineup, one through nine," Leyland said. "We just have to have a little more depth throughout the lineup, and if we do that, we'll put runs on the board like we're supposed to, but we haven't done that very consistently this year."
Pittsburgh pushed its lead back to three runs in the bottom of the seventh, with Phil Coke in to replace Scherzer. Coke gave up a double and two singles before making way for Octavio Dotel. The damage might have been worse for Detroit had the Pirates not botched a suicide-squeeze attempt with men on the corners and one out.
Still, the home team entered the ninth with a three-run lead, and Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan locked down his 19th save after setting down Avila on strikes for the final out.
"There's no place like home. Our pitchers have pitched well here," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They have a comfort zone here, [are] able to aggressively attack the strike zone."
In no way should the loss fall entirely on Scherzer's shoulders. He made the mistake against McCutchen in the fourth inning, but overall his start was more than serviceable. He left the game after six innings, having allowed three runs on three hits. He struck out seven and walked just one.
Lincoln gave up two hits and one run in six-plus innings. He also struck out seven and walked one. As with Scherzer, the runs he allowed scored via the long ball.
The loss ends Detroit's streak of series wins at four. The Tigers' record against the Pirates this year is 2-3.