Lincoln logs a gem in Pirates' win over Tigers

Lincoln logs a gem in Pirates' win over Tigers

Lincoln logs a gem in Pirates' win over Tigers
PITTSBURGH -- Brad Lincoln's erratic transition into a starter's role had invited plenty of questions. Was the main problem arm strength, hesitancy or an inability to finish -- both his pitches and innings?

Lincoln himself had only one question: "Who do you have to know to get to pitch in PNC Park?"

Because as it turns out, his issue was a simple one of location: where he was doing his pitching.

In his fifth start of the season but first in PNC Park, the Pirates' pitching fortress, Lincoln carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and wound up hurling two-hit ball for six-plus frames in the Bucs' 4-1 victory over the Tigers on Saturday.

Whereas the pitching lift came from a welcomed fresh source, the punch was excitingly familiar: Andrew McCutchen's three-run homer off Max Scherzer in the fourth stood up as the difference.

Turns out Lincoln did know the right person -- manager Clint Hurdle, who was not about to pull the rotation out from under his hurler without giving him a chance.

"There's no place like home," said Hurdle, channeling his inner Dorothy. "Our pitchers have pitched well here. They have a comfort zone here, [are] able to aggressively attack the strike zone. We did want to give Brad an opportunity to pitch at home, and he was able to follow suit."

Lincoln called the ongoing divide between his home and road performances "just coincidence."

"If you just go out there and pitch your game, whatever happens, happens, whether it's here or on the road," said Lincoln.

The better things just keep happening for the Bucs at home, where their second consecutive win over the Tigers in front of another sellout crowd clinched an eighth series win in the last nine, as well as a winning record in their 2012 Interleague slate. With only Sunday's finale against the Tigers remaining, the Pirates are 10-7 against American League clubs.

Lincoln walked one and struck out a career-best seven in making a contribution to the Pirates' remarkable run of masterful home chucking. The Bucs have allowed 15 runs in their last nine home games, a streak dating back to May 30.

Lincoln held the Tigers hitless until Ramon Santiago led off the sixth with a clean single to right. Lincoln's shoulder slumped slightly in disappointment, but he recovered to retire the next three batters.

"That deep into the game, you're aware of what's going on," he said, "and you want to go deeper and hang onto that. But after [the hit], you can't let that bother you. Go get the next guy, and get out of the inning."

Before Lincoln gave up that hit, McCutchen stepped up, following Alex Presley's fourth-inning leadoff double and Jose Tabata's HBP with his 13th homer, which also gave him 45 RBIs.

"He was trying to go down and away on Andrew, and he got it in -- up a little bit, and in, obviously," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of the 0-and-2 pitch. "Other than that I thought [Scherzer] did a terrific job."

"He pitched great," McCutchen said of Lincoln. "[He] kept us in the game until we had a chance to score some runs."

McCutchen called the Pirates' recent offensive awakening "what I expected. Different guys are coming through, getting big hits."

The consistent difference-maker, however, has been McCutchen. The All-Star candidate has a .536 average, two homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games.

Lincoln started the day pitching to stay in the rotation and wound up making a move on Cooperstown. He didn't enter the no-hit wing, but perhaps they'll find room for him in the room reserved for amazing feats: He once made his way through the entire Detroit lineup without delivering a single ball.

From a 2-and-0 count on Prince Fielder with two outs in the fourth to the 0-and-2 pitch to Miguel Cabrera leading off the seventh, Lincoln delivered 20 consecutive strikes. When time came for Cabrera to deliver -- he ended that at-bat with his 15th homer -- it signaled the end of Lincoln's day.

Lincoln departed having made 79 pitches -- 60 for strikes.

"He was really focused on the adjustment we felt he needed to make," Hurdle said. "He was very effective. The fastball command was above average, the breaking ball was in play for strikes and for swings-and-misses, he threw some very good changeups ... a very good day for him.

"He looked like the kid we saw [on May 14, when he allowed two runs and four hits in six innings in his first start, against the Marlins], the kid we saw pitch out of the bullpen [to an 0.45 ERA in 13 outings prior to morphing into the rotation]."

In a totally different context, Hurdle, ironically, had addressed PNC Park's pitching-friendliness prior to the game.

"If pitching and defense are your thing, this park is built for that," he pointed out.

Finally getting a chance to experience that in a starting capacity -- following three consecutive road starts in which he had gone 0-2 with an ERA of 10.03 -- Lincoln responded artfully.

"I don't think it's a question of home or road," Lincoln insisted. "It's clearing your mind from the last start, sticking with your game plan and grinding it out. You do that, more often than not, things turn out better."

People could have seen this coming had they only been able to tear themselves from Lincoln's overall statistics. Prior to this start, he had allowed no earned runs and only three hits in 9 1/3 innings in PNC Park. On the road, for one comparison, he has given up six home runs in 28 1/3 innings.

Out of town he's been hit at a .310 rate. Including Saturday's turn, the guys in away uniforms are 5-for-53 in PNC Park against Lincoln.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.