Tigers' comeback story has unhappy ending

In contention until final day, club on outside looking in

Tigers' comeback story has unhappy ending

ATLANTA -- The Tigers spent most of the weekend pondering three- and four-team Wild Card tiebreakers, a makeup game against Cleveland, and a possible week-long stretch of a different road game in every city. Then suddenly, their season was over.

The only place they're going is home -- not Detroit, but to their homes.

When Jim Johnson threw strike three past Justin Upton to close out Detroit's 1-0 loss, he abruptly eliminated the Tigers from postseason contention. The only scoreboard watching left was to watch the Red Sox and Blue Jays and figure out if the Tigers would have to return to Detroit for a makeup game against Cleveland that had no bearing on their own chances.

Once Toronto held on, Detroit was done in every sense.

Tigers on loss, elimination

"With all the scenario and possibilities and travel schedules, it kind of fizzled out, to be honest with you," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I would have not enjoyed the travel, but I would have relished traveling, if that makes sense."

A day that began with them still holding hope for the postseason ended with them shaking hands and parting ways, not knowing in some cases who might be back when they meet again.

"I want to keep playing," Miguel Cabrera said. "I was telling guys, 'What am I going to do?' You don't make plans because you want to be in the race and you want to be in the playoffs. Right now I have to think what I'm going to do. I'm kind of like, 'Let's keep playing.'"

That was the plan. When they got off to a slow start and languished around .500 near midseason, it seemed out of their reach. They were a 38-38 team on June 26, the day the Indians roughed up Justin Verlander at Comerica Park. They were a third-place club as late as July 2.

They ended up being the final team to fall out of the postseason picture. They controlled their postseason destiny up until Saturday, convoluted as that destiny seemed. Back-to-back losses to the Braves did them in.

Verlander's seven strong innings

"A lot of hard work for naught," said Verlander, who took the loss Sunday despite seven innings of one-run ball. "I mean, you can't say a wasted year, because we battled and we gave it everything we had. Unfortunately we had some really key injuries that kind of hampered us there for a while. But still, you put in all the hard work in the offseason, all the hard work in the regular season, and then it comes to an end on the last day, it's tough."

Said Cameron Maybin: "It happens, and that's the game. I'm sure people expected us to come in day in and day out and bang. But again, those guys on the other side have a job to do."

It was a comeback story with an alternate ending. For that, as difficult as Sunday's loss was on many of them to digest -- Ian Kinsler needed time to figure it out -- the fact that they put themselves in position for that kind of drama was what Ausmus emphasized as he addressed the team after the game.

"We were dead in the water in a lot of people's minds in July," Ausmus said, "and the guys played hard, and continued to play hard all the way through the last game. The effort was there. They were busting down the line. Guys were playing every day with aches and pains. Those guys, they wanted to win and they understood the magnitude of the games the last couple months of the season. For that, I'm real proud of them.

"They got us back in the race. We were the last American League team standing in the playoff picture, and it's the last day of the season."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.