They've played far worse games than this during their skid of eight losses in their last 11 games. If anything, they had more things go right on their way back from a 4-0 deficit after three innings than they did during their wins over the skid. Yet the ending left them with one of the worst feelings they've had this year.
"I don't know what to say," catcher Gerald Laird. "It's just one of those you have to build off of. I mean, we did a lot of things good tonight -- came back. We played a pretty good, solid baseball game. We made some good plays, turned some double plays. We got some timely hitting. It's one of those games you need to win, but it was tough."
To say they're not trying after a game like this is foolish, considering how they made their way back. To say they're simply not good is overly simplistic, and defeats the first argument. To say they're snakebitten, while it has evidence in all the injuries -- now including right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel with right elbow inflammation -- also sounds like an excuse.
To say they're searching might be better.
"Everybody's grinding," said starter Rick Porcello after one of his most frustrating outings of the year. "But the other teams are fighting, too. It's not just us. Myself and us as a club, we have to find a way to get it done consistently, day in and day out."
Porcello was still beating himself up over the hanging changeup he threw to Joey Votto, whose 429-foot drive off the batting eye in straightaway center field provided a three-run homer with an exclamation point.
It also dictated a pinch-hit move when Porcello's spot in the batting order came up to lead off the sixth. Leyland needed a deeper outing from his starter on a night when he was short in his bullpen. He said before the game that he would not pitch Joaquin Benoit after 42 pitches over the previous two days.
Leyland did not say anything before the game about Dotel, likely hoping to keep his injury quiet for as long as he could. Dotel hadn't pitched in a game since last Saturday against the Yankees, which is when he says he felt elbow pain, but the Tigers hadn't had a late-inning lead for him -- or anybody in their late-inning bullpen -- until Thursday against an Indians lineup with no shortage of lefties.
With Benoit and Dotel out, Leyland made the surprising move to Jose Ortega for his Major League debut with the potential tying run on second base in the eighth inning. However, Todd Frazier's .327 career average against left-handed pitching -- including four homers in 55 at-bats -- suggested going away from Duane Below or Phil Coke.
Leyland didn't want to use Coke unless he had to, because Coke had thrown the previous two days. Once Chris Heisey's infield single put Frazier on third as the potential go-ahead run for Votto, he had no choice.
Coke sat Votto nearly as quickly as he ran in from the bullpen to face him, striking out the former National League MVP on three pitches, mainly breaking balls.
"The last at-bat, I knew we got him with two fastballs," Laird said. "He threw a lot of good [breaking balls]. He threw a good outing. It was just tough that he couldn't get the win."
Coke retired the middle-third of the order in the ninth to send it to extra innings. With closer Jose Valverde and Brayan Villarreal the last relievers standing, Leyland decided to keep riding Coke. Miguel Cairo's line-drive to right rattled around in the outfield corner for a leadoff triple in the 10th, promptly putting him in trouble.
Coke got a ground ball from Ryan Hanigan to keep Cairo at third, but Valdez's slow roller sent the Tigers' infield charging and Leyland's stomach churning like a lunch at Skyline Chili.
"We thought that it was certainly a possibility," Leyland said. "It was more of a safety squeeze, it was not an all-out suicide squeeze. I did not put the pitchout on, obviously. Had I, we probably would not have had the guy, since it was more of a safety squeeze. But we were certainly aware of it."
Fielder scooped the ball rather quickly, but his toss left Laird with no time to tag Cairo as he slid in behind him.
"It hit the grass and kind of died," Laird said. "I mean, I was looking and where I was, he was already by me by the time I reached back. It's a good play, and they executed it right there. It's one of those things where you have to tip your cap. They made a good execution and it worked out for them."