The Indians had momentum finally swinging in their direction after Josh Tomlin miraculously escaped a critical bases-loaded situation to avoid a walk-off loss in the ninth inning. Cleveland felt in control after Travis Hafner and Ezequiel Carrera launched back-to-back homers in a three-run burst in the 10th that pushed the Tribe to an 8-5 lead.
Then, falling in line with the rest of this trying journey, everything fell apart.
With two outs and no one on base, Indians All-Star closer Chris Perez imploded. He allowed two walks and three hits, including the game's decisive blow: a towering walk-off two-run homer by Miguel Cabrera that sent Comerica Park into a frenzy. The Tigers partied on the field as the crowd roared in celebration.
The Indians headed off the field in disbelief.
"The way this one ended," Hafner said, "it was pretty gut-wrenching."
Given the battle fought by his teammates, Perez felt awful.
"That's what makes this so much worse," Perez said. "The fight that our hitters showed. Obviously, everybody knows we're playing bad ball and this has been a terrible road trip. But to keeping coming back, adding one on, and keep coming back, adding one on, put three up in extra innings, and then watch me [give] it away, it just [stinks]."
The loss put the final touches on the worst road trip in the history of the Indians franchise.
That is not conjecture. That is based on the record book.
In the long, storied 112-year history of the Indians, no team had ever gone winless on a road trip of nine games or more. Cleveland went 0-9 on this 10-day slog that included stops in Minnesota, Kansas City and Detroit. When the journey began, the Tribe was in contention. When it ended, the ballclub sat dejected and deducted from many postseason discussions.
On July 2, Cleveland took down Tigers ace Justin Verlander in dramatic fashion and hit the road just 3 1/2 games behind the first-place White Sox in the American League Central. Nine games and nine losses later, the Indians are staring at a deficit of 9 1/2 games, and trying to avoid sinking below their current third-place position.
The nine-game skid is tied for the second-longest losing streak in the AL this season, trailing Kansas City's 12-game slide in April. It is the longest losing streak by an Indians club since the 2009 squad dropped 11 in a row.
There have been 13 losing streaks of nine or more games in Indians history, but this marks only the second time that the club has allowed five or more runs in each loss. They accomplished that same dubious feat over a nine-game drought in 1973.
"We've got to get back up again," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
The most glaring problem throughout the Tribe's winless journey was subpar starting pitching. For the finale of this three-game set in the Motor City, Cleveland summoned left-hander Chris Seddon from Triple-A and gave him a shot at ending the rotation's downward spiral.
Seddon was hardly spectacular, but the lefty offered Cleveland one of the better performances on this 10-day bender. His outing was abbreviated (4 1/3 innings) and inconsistent (four runs allowed on seven hits with three walks), but it put the Indians in a position to win. That was something his pitching predecessors struggled with throughout the road trip.
"I wish I could've kept us in it a little better," said Seddon, who had not started in the Majors since 2007. "I was a little up in the zone, but that's something I can improve on next time."
On the trip, Cleveland's rotation went a combined 0-7 with an 11.69 ERA, allowing 55 earned runs over 42 1/3 innings. Seddon's start was the fifth in nine games to include fewer than five innings logged. That said, it matched the fewest earned runs surrendered in an outing this trip by one of the starting pitchers.
"He pitched better than what the numbers indicate," Acta said. "He battled. He battled for us, but still, we had to play catch-up baseball. But, the guys did a great job."
The Indians' offense, which had managed only a .190 average with 20 total runs scored on the trip heading into Sunday's game, kept pace with the Tigers.
Against Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer, Cleveland's lineup went 10-for-14 on balls in play, churning out four runs in his five innings for the Tigers. Michael Brantley and Hafner chipped in an RBI apiece in the first inning and Shin-Soo Choo belted a solo homer in the third. Carlos Santana added an RBI single in the fifth inning for the Tribe.
It was the kind of scratching and clawing and fight that has been missing from the bats in most of the games on this trip, and it continued into the later innings. In the seventh inning, Hafner pushed Cleveland to a short-lived 5-4 lead with another RBI single -- this one against Tigers lefty Phil Coke.
"We played good baseball today," Hafner said. "We swung the bats well and played with a lot of energy. That was good to see."
Cleveland initially avoided a walk-off celebration in the ninth.
With the score tied at 5, Austin Jackson tripled off Tomlin, who later opted to issue consecutive one-out intentional walks to Cabrera and Prince Fielder to load the bases. Tomlin then induced a grounder from Quintin Berry, creating an inning-ending double play that saved Cleveland momentarily.
Such heroics only added to this defeat's sting.
"That one really hurts," Acta said. "Not only because of the losing streak, but because of how much heart and determination these guys showed throughout the day to put themselves in position to win the ballgame. They had a lot of good at-bats and some gutsy performances.
"It's hard. [They] fought so hard."