But when it came down to a ground ball that deflected off pitcher Todd Jones' glove, with the winner determined by which way it bounced, the Tigers showed why they have the majors' best record. And the Pirates again displayed why they have the NL's worst record.
Chris Shelton hit one of Detroit's two tape-measure home runs against the team that gave him away and the Tigers bounced back from one of their few ugly losses this season, holding on to beat the Pirates 9-8 Sunday.
"We were this close," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said, holding two fingers about an inch apart. "This close."
Shelton, Carlos Guillen and Craig Monroe drove in two runs each to help the Tigers open a 9-2 lead and take two of three from Pittsburgh, their seventh consecutive series win. They were coming off a 9-2 loss Saturday in which they committed errors on three consecutive infield plays during a seven-run Pirates seventh.
The Pirates lost for the 15th time in 17 games, while the Tigers won their 14th in 16.
"But, to be honest, I was concerned we might come in here and not win a game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "A team like that, they're going to get their share eventually and I didn't want it to be this weekend. This could have a tremendous sting right here this weekend."
The seventh inning Sunday was even wilder than Saturday's with the Tigers scoring five runs against Pittsburgh's usually reliable bullpen before the Pirates came back with six runs to get within a run.
"After we jumped out 9-2, a lot of teams would have shut it down but they didn't," the Tigers' Vance Wilson said.
Todd Jones finished up by pitching the ninth for his 22nd save in 25 opportunities, but not without a big scare. Pittsburgh loaded the bases with one out on Jason Bay's double and two walks, with Leyland ordering Freddy Sanchez be intentionally walked to put the potential winning run on base.
But Jose Castillo struck out and Humberto Cota grounded out on a ball that deflected off Jones' glove directly to second baseman Placido Polanco. If the ball had veered by even a foot, the Pirates likely would have scored twice and won.
"The ball wasn't too far from me," said Polanco, who was relieved the ball was deflected. "For sure, it made it an easier play. If that ball goes up the middle, you don't know if Carlos (Guillen, the shortstop) is going to be there."
Monroe's two-run double against Jonah Bayliss keyed the Tigers' seventh, which marked the only time in the series the Tigers scored past the fifth inning. Pinch-hitter Omar Infante started the seventh with the first of three Detroit doubles in the inning and Wilson added an RBI double three batters later against reliever John Grabow.
In bottom of the inning, the Pirates had runners on third and first with six runs already in before Castillo hit into an inning-ending double play. Before that, they turned a hit batter, two singles, a walk, reliever Fernando Rodney's run-scoring wild pitch and shortstop Guillen's error on a Sean Casey grounder into three runs ahead of Sanchez's second two-run double in as many innings. Pinch-hitter Ronny Paulino followed with a run-scoring single.
"We got a little careless, which you can't let happen," Leyland said.
Despite another seventh-inning letdown, the Tigers quickly proved there would be no carryover effect from Saturday's loss by jumping on Pirates starter Ian Snell (7-6) for three runs in the first. Guillen's two-run homer over the right field stands followed Magglio Ordonez's run-scoring double.
Guillen's drive, his 10th, was estimated at 449 feet, but was topped when Shelton led off the second with a 459-foot shot off the center field batter's backdrop. Shelton's homer was his 16th and second of the series against the team that failed to protect him for the Rule 5 draft at the 2003 winter meetings. Shelton had five hits and four RBI in the series.
The final score didn't indicate how well Tigers rookie starter Zach Miner (5-1) pitched in winning his fifth in a row. He retired the first 11 batters and didn't give up a hit until Sanchez singled leading off the fifth. Sanchez's 13-game hitting streak ended Saturday, but he came back with three hits Sunday to jump his average to .363.
Miner lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up two runs and six hits. Snell, losing his third in a row after winning five straight by allowing four runs and seven hits in five innings.
- The Tigers finished 15-3 against the NL, easily their best record since interleague play began in 1997. The Pirates went 3-12 against the AL after going 5-7 last year.
- The Pirates' Jose Hernandez, making a spot start at shortstop, left after four innings with tightness in his lower back.
- Tigers starting pitchers are 16-2 over the last month.
- The Pirates are 8-24 and the Tigers are 14-8 in one-run games.