Baseball's marketing aces are trying to position this little slice of the game's sprawling calendar as Rivalry Week, even if many of the matchups are between teams and towns with no particular gripe against the other.
Unless and until a series of slimy cephalopods starts showing up on a sheet of ice inhabited by the Penguins, there is no serious issue between Pittsburgh and Detroit, but there sure is serious baseball.
This first unofficial week of summer has juxtaposed two of baseball's best teams for four consecutive episodes -- two here after two there -- and it has been superior theatre.
Coming into Act III Wednesday night, wins were 1-1 and runs were 6-6, and who knew that this one looked like it would turn on a preponderance of evidence that A.J. Burnett wanted no part of Don Kelly?
Burnett walked the .186-hitting brother-in-law of Neil Walker three times before he left after six innings, once in the middle of a three-run Tigers flare-up that included Miguel Cabrera's 15th home run of the season -- the one that provided his 58th and 59th RBI.
Yes, it's May 30.
So let's try to put that in perspective.
Played through the length of 162 games, Cabrera, last year's Triple Crown winner, could ride that ridiculous production schedule to 191 runs batted in.
Speaking of which, a story from baseball's seldom-visited chapters of front office folklore goes something like this:
While negotiating a free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs in the late 1970s, slugger Dave Kingman instructed his agent to get him an incentive clause that would pay him a substantial bonus if he set the club record for RBIs.
"Done," said the Cubs general manager.
"Huh?" said the agent.
"Done," said the GM. "The record is 190."
Hack Wilson did that in 1930. Dogged statisticians found an extra Hack ribbie many years later, and no one has made a run at 191 RBIs since the summer of 1931 when Lou Gehrig drove in 184.
So good luck with that, Miggy.
Probably won't need any bonuses at $21 million for 2013.
Anyway, you know that old baseball axiom: if three walks to Donnie Kelly don't kill you, an ill-timed walk to Russell Martin just might.
Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez, working on a three-hitter in the seventh inning, walked Martin four pitches after Garrett Jones smacked a single to center with the Pirates down, 3-1.
"He walked that guy and he just kind of lost it all of a sudden," said Jim Leyland, baseball's winningest active manager. "I didn't even have anybody warming up. He'd only thrown 67 pitches and I thought he was really strong."
He was until Pedro Alvarez rode the next pitch up the alley in left center to tie the score, or until Travis Snider sent a trolley-wire double against the scoreboard in right, or certainly until Jordy Mercer dropped an exquisite squeeze that plated Snider with the run that made it 5-3.
All of that boiled away to another ninth-inning confrontation between Jason Grilli, baseball's top closer, and Cabrera, baseball's best run-producer. Just as he had less than 24 hours earlier in Michigan, Grilli prevailed, although Cabrera put a charge into the first pitch Grilli delivered to him in the ninth. The park held it, and Grilli had his 22nd save in 22 attempts.
Yes, it's May 30.
That projects to 67 saves, speaking of preposterous numbers, which would only be the most ever.
"He's really thrived over here and he's done a terrific, terrific job," Leyland said of Grilli, whom he managed for parts of four seasons. "He's just a great kid. That just shows you the game of baseball. He was doing long relief, holds for us, and now, a different niche for him and he's found a home here and he's just been absolutely terrific."
The Tigers maintained their grip on first place in the American League Central, but it's at least partly useful to point out that were they in this National League Central, the defending American League champions would be 2 1/2 games behind the Pirates.
"They're the real deal," Leyland said of the club he managed to three consecutive division titles a lifetime ago. "They're a very good team. They have one of the best, if not the best, bullpens we've seen. They've got some very talented guys in Marte and McCutchen and of course Walker's been hot. They've got a nice balance in their lineup -- lefty, righty.
"They'll be like everybody else; they'll go as far as their pitching takes them."
To be sure, even in some of its darkest hours, Leyland has always spoken favorably about the franchise that was never the same after he left.
There's a different ring to it this time.
Regardless of your opinion of octopus, this Pirates/Tigers baseball is darn tasty.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published May 30, 2013 4:00 AM