DETROIT -- How long does the momentum of a near no-hitter last, you ask? Not that long.
Detroit has been trying to build momentum long before Justin Verlander one-hit the Pirates Friday night. Andrew McCutchen not only doubled the hit total by himself, he gave Pittsburgh a four-run cushion.
That held up against the Tigers, whose 4-3 loss Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park left them still searching for the first set of consecutive victories since their 9-3 start in mid-April.
"That is hard to believe. That's very hard to believe," manager Jim Leyland said of that streak without streaks. "But that will happen. Like I said, I think we got some guys swinging a little better, but we got to get them home. We've got to get some big hits. We've got to get some timely two-out hits."
Their lone run-scoring hit was Prince Fielder's two-run homer in the third inning off A.J. Burnett. For that matter, every run-scoring hit Saturday, both sides, was a two-run homer. The Pirates had two of them, thanks to another pesky day from Josh Harrison and two punishing swings from McCutchen, who picked up his torrid hitting in May after a one-night struggle with Verlander.
Harrison continued to pester the Tigers after breaking up Verlander's no-hit bid in the ninth inning Friday night. That was a broken-bat flare into shallow center field, and it was better than anything he did at the plate Saturday. All he had to do was get on base for McCutchen, and he did that three times without really having to swing the bat.
Harrison bunted his way on with a well-placed roller to the first-base side of the mound in the opening inning. McCutchen turned on a 92 mph fastball from Smyly and sent it 416 feet to left field for his sixth home run of the year.
"I had him 1-2 and tried to go fastball out of the zone," Smyly said. "And I mean, it was right there and he killed it."
Or as Smyly later put it, "That's just a terrible 1-2 pitch."
The next inning, Harrison worked Smyly for 11 pitches to draw a two-out walk and bring up McCutchen, whose fly ball to right took Brennan Boesch deep into the corner before making the catch and stranding the bases loaded.
It was an escape for Smyly, but he was in a trap on pitch count, having thrown 54 pitches through two innings, 14 less than he threw in his entire outing last Monday against the White Sox.
"Throw strikes, get ahead, make them hit. After the first inning that was my mindset," Smyly said. "Just try to limit your pitches."
After the third inning that worked. He retired seven of eight batters starting with McCutchen's flyout and went into the fifth with less than 80 pitches. After Jose Tabata flied out, he had Harrison in an 0-2 count before losing a cutter inside and hitting Harrison on the leg.
Up came McCutchen, and back came Smyly with what he felt was a better pitch in a 1-0 count. McCutchen, however, is batting .450 against lefties with his ability to take pitches to the opposite field. His fly ball looked similar to the one he had last time up, but with more carry, enough to get over the fence in the corner.
"The last one I was trying to get a fastball on the outer edge, which I did," Smyly said. "It might've been a tad bit up."
All Smyly could do was shake his head. The rookie left-hander gave up three homers over 34 innings in his first six starts. He has given up a pair of two-run homers in each of his last two outings.
"If you take away those four pitches, I feel like I've thrown great," Smyly said. "They got seven hits today, but I can't think of one ball they even hit hard except for those two home runs. Just finding holes, falling over the shortstop, bunt single."
In another stretch, he probably gets the offensive support to overcome that. With one more Tigers hit, he might've gotten it Saturday.
They had A.J. Burnett reeling in the second inning, having gone from two out and nobody on to bases loaded with a full count to Don Kelly, thanks in part to back-to-back walks against the bottom two hitters in Detroit's order.
Pedro Alvarez leaned into the third-base stands to take back Kelly's foul pop-up and get Burnett out of his jam. Fielder got him the next inning, but Burnett stranded a two-out baserunner every inning from there, including Kelly on third base in the fourth inning after a walk, stolen base, wild pitch and another full count, this time to Andy Dirks.
"Both teams missed huge opportunities, and we just wound up one run better than them," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We had to battle through it today. Everyone threw in something; Andrew threw in a bunch."
Fielder had one more chance in the ninth inning after Cabrera drew a two-out walk from Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. No team gave up more Fielder homers during his Brewers days than Pittsburgh. A good offspeed pitch from Hanrahan made sure they didn't give up another.
"That was nasty," Fielder said. "That's what he does."
That's how the last month has gone for the Tigers, now back to two games under .500 and looking again for momentum.