DETROIT -- One the best starts of Francisco Liriano's career against the Tigers was completely overshadowed by the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Thursday.
Liriano matched Detroit's Max Scherzer early by taking a no-hit bid into the fifth inning. But Scherzer had staying power, powering through eight innings and racking up 14 strikeouts. The Tigers forced a split of the four-game, home-and-home series with a 5-2 victory at Comerica Park.
While Scherzer drew buzz by striking out eight in the first three innings, Liriano was even more dominant early. The lefty ran his streak of innings without a hit allowed to 10, dating back to his last start.
But the first Tigers batter of the fifth inning made sure Scherzer's performance would be the one to remember. J.D. Martinez's solo home run on a Liriano slider broke up the no-hit bid and the scoreless tie.
"Bad pitch right there," Liriano said of the Martinez at-bat, one of the only mistakes he made all afternoon. "Hanging slider. I made a mistake. That's what you get."
The Pirates were held scoreless until Gaby Sanchez's pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning.
Liriano had a rocky sixth inning, but he held the Tigers to only one additional run. After loading the bases, he walked Martinez to double the Detroit lead. The inning was Liriano's last, as he exited after six having allowed two runs on three hits.
"Frank pitched another very good ballgame," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was very effective against a very good hitting team. He gave us the outing we needed to have a shot."
Against Scherzer, though, he would've needed to continue what he began in the first four innings for it to have been a realistic shot. Still, the outing was a marked improvement for Liriano against Detroit, a team that has always given him problems. In 24 prior appearances against the Tigers, including 17 starts, the southpaw's ERA was just a hair below 6.00.
Meanwhile, Scherzer, struck out the side in the first two innings and didn't stop there. The Pirates failed to translate their three hits off him into runs, however.
"He pitched like a Cy Young Award winner," Hurdle said. "He's a horse out there. The volume of pitches he can throw and maintain velocity and command is impressive."
Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches, constantly catching the Pirates lagging with both of his fastballs. He also effectively mixed in his changeup against left-handed hitters.
Perhaps most indicative of Pittsburgh's offensive woes against Scherzer on Thursday was Hurdle's assessment of his team's best at-bats of the game. One of the two he pointed to was a strikeout -- the nine-pitch at-bat Jordy Mercer mustered off Scherzer before succumbing to the same fate that met eight of his teammates.
The other at-bat that Hurdle mentioned came in the fourth inning, after Travis Snider continued his hot streak with a ground-rule double into the left-field power alley. The next batter, Josh Harrison, crushed a fly ball to the warning track of the same part of the ballpark, but Martinez, the left fielder, hauled it in with a running catch. Snider was running on contact and had to hustle just to return to second base.
Earlier, in the third inning, catcher Chris Stewart led off with a single. But Michael Martinez followed by watching strike three go by, and Stewart, who took off for second on the pitch, was cut down at second to complete the double play.
The Pirates were guessing Scherzer would come with a fastball in the zone on the 3-2 pitch to Martinez, Hurdle said.
"We get the fastball in the zone," Hurdle said, "but not the swing."
In the eighth, the Tigers tacked on three more runs off Brandon Cumpton, who had pitched a perfect seventh. Michael Martinez nearly made a spectacular play at second to end the inning without any damage, but his throw to first base was way off the mark, allowing Miguel Cabrera to score. Nick Castellanos followed with a two-run single.
Sanchez's ninth-inning homer ruined Detroit's bid for a shutout and cut the lead to three. But Joba Chamberlain entered the game to record the game's final two outs.
The loss forced Pittsburgh into a tie with St. Louis for second place in the National League Central.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.