DETROIT -- Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers kept the Pirates at bay Monday afternoon, but the Pirates gave them some help.
The Pirates fought back against Verlander in his seventh and final inning. They fought back against eighth-inning man Joaquin Benoit. They managed, for a game, to contain Miguel Cabrera. They did not do quite enough to win.
The Pirates dropped the first game of their two-game road series against the Tigers, 6-5, on a rainy Monday at Comerica Park. They had seven extra-base hits. Twice they cut the lead to one run. Mistakes in the later innings contributed to the comebacks falling short.
"I love the way we battled," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We got down early to a very good pitcher, one of the elite pitchers in the league."
Travis Snider went 3 for 5, and Neil Walker and Garrett Jones each had two hits.
Jhonny Peralta went 4 for 4 with a double and three RBIs for the Tigers, and Victor Martinez drove in two runs.
Verlander (6-4) allowed three runs on seven hits in seven innings. After the Pirates scored one off Verlander in the first, he shut them out until the seventh, when they scored two more.
"He can throw every single pitch that he has for a strike, and every single pitch that he has is above average," said Gaby Sanchez, who went 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI. "It's difficult. It's just trying to get that mistake when he throws it and hitting it. If not, he's tough. He hits his corners."
After an exceptional first month of the season, this former American League most valuable player and Cy Young Award winner hit turbulence in May. He did not pitch past the fifth inning in any of his past three starts, including a 22/3-inning, eight-run outing against the Texas Rangers.
He displayed none of those problems Monday. His 13 strikeouts fell one short of his career high.
The Pirates trailed, 4-1, entering the seventh, but two runs cut the Tigers lead to one. Sanchez led off with a double. Verlander retired Brandon Inge and Clint Barmes quickly, but Snider hit an RBI triple off the wall in right-center field.
Walker doubled down the right-field line, his second extra-base hit of the game, to score Snider.
The Pirates scored two in the eighth and had a chance for more, but a base-running mistake snuffed the rally.
Jones doubled off Benoit and scored when Russell Martin's grounder scooted under Fielder's glove. The play was ruled an error. Sanchez's double scored Martin.
"Having those good at-bats against Verlander definitely helps out going off their eighth- and ninth-inning guys," Sanchez said. "We feel like later, it doesn't matter who's out there. We're going to be able to come back and win ballgames late."
Josh Harrison pinch-ran for Sanchez, but Harrison leaned toward third as Benoit whirled to second, and Benoit picked him off. Inge struck out looking to end the inning.
Poor control from Jose Contreras in the seventh allowed the Tigers to extend their lead. Contreras walked four in one-third of an inning. Peralta hit an RBI single, and Contreras walked in a run with the bases loaded.
Hurdle said he did not remove Contreras earlier because the inning was Contreras' to work through, so as to allow the bullpen to rest.
"You can't pitch the same guys all the time, so no," Hurdle said. "Not today. He needed to pitch that inning, and he wasn't able to pitch the inning."
Francisco Liriano allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings. He had only allowed two runs in 18 innings in his first three starts.
"I think I made some good pitches, and they were finding the holes," Liriano (3-1) said. "It was one of those games that no matter where you throw, they might get a hit."
Walker tripled and scored in the first to give the Pirates an early lead. The Tigers used three consecutive singles to tie it in the fourth.
Martinez broke the tie in the fifth. His double scored two runs, and he scored on Peralta's double to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 27, 2013 8:30 PM