DETROIT — Max Scherzer struck out 15 — the most by a Detroit pitcher in 40 years — and the Tigers rallied for him with three runs in the seventh inning to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 on Sunday.
Scherzer, who pitched at Missouri during college, threw 115 pitches in seven innings and was done for the day when the Tigers came back from a 2-1 deficit while he was still the pitcher of record. Alex Avila hit a two-run single through a drawn-in infield to put Detroit ahead.
Pittsburgh scored a run in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit, but he held on for his first save this season.
Kevin Correia (1-5) allowed three runs in six-plus innings.
Mickey Lolich had 15 strikeouts for the Tigers in a 1972 game and set the club record of 16 in 1969.
Scherzer's 15 strikeouts were the most by a major league pitcher this year. Miami's Anibal Sanchez had 14 against Arizona on April 28.
Scherzer allowed seven runs in 2 2-3 innings in his first start of the season, and although he's been better since then, he entered Sunday's game with a 6.26 ERA. He was locked in from the start, throwing his first 10 pitches for strikes before finally missing the zone against Pedro Alvarez, the first hitter of the second. Scherzer got Alvarez anyway for his third strikeout of the day.
Scherzer had struck out five straight — and 10 for the game — when Rod Barajas homered with one out in the fifth to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Jhonny Peralta answered with a solo shot in the bottom half.
Neil Walker hit a 407-foot homer in the sixth, and it appeared the Tigers might waste Scherzer's terrific effort. His pitch count was creeping up, precluding a run at the big league record of 20 strikeouts for a nine-inning game, and Scherzer was actually on the hook for a loss when manager Jim Leyland offered him a congratulatory handshake after the top of the seventh.
But Prince Fielder led off the bottom half with a blooper to left that dropped between shortstop Clint Barmes and left fielder Nate McLouth. Barmes had a long way to run because the infield was shifted around to the right, and when the ball hit the ground, it bounced weirdly up off him into foul ground, enabling Fielder to reach second with a double.
Delmon Young followed with a tying single, and Peralta drew a walk one out later. A passed ball by Barajas allowed the runners to move up to second and third, and the Pirates brought the infield in. Avila's base hit up the middle foiled that strategy and made it 4-2.
Scherzer allowed four hits and a walk.
Detroit was without center fielder Austin Jackson (abdominal strain) and closer Jose Valverde (lower back strain), but the Tigers ended up taking two of three from Pittsburgh. Scherzer and Justin Verlander bookended the series with brilliant pitching performances. Verlander threw a one-hit shutout Friday night, striking out 12 and giving up only a ninth-inning single to Josh Harrison.
The Pirates struck out 17 times Sunday and 41 times in the series.