No American League pitching staff has given up fewer home runs this season than the Tigers, even after Wednesday's 20-4 loss, and it's not even close. The gap between Detroit's AL-low total of 117 and Kansas City's next-lowest total of 129 is bigger than the franchise record-setting eight-homer total they allowed Wednesday.
This game put a dent in that foundation for the Tigers' success like the dents in the Green Monster. In the end, like so many balls the Red Sox hit over the Monster -- including a no-doubt Will Middlebrooks grand slam off Al Alburquerque that removed any doubt of the outcome -- the Tigers couldn't get out of here soon enough.
"The Green Monster's one thing," manager Jim Leyland said. "But right field, you normally don't see them going out like that. But they were going out like ping-pong balls."
The Tigers held the Red Sox scoreless for the first 13 innings of the series, then capped the three-game set with the highest single-game home run total in Detroit's 113-year history. The Tigers had given up seven home runs in a game four times, most recently on Sept. 11, 2007.
The 20 runs, meanwhile, marked the highest total allowed by a Detroit pitching staff since a 26-5 loss to the Royals on Sept. 9, 2004. The Tigers gave up only one home run in that contest at Comerica Park, but Rule 5 Draft pick Lino Urdaneta gave up six runs on five hits without recording an out in what ended up being his only appearance in a Detroit uniform.
Urdaneta's ERA as a Tiger remains infinite. Rick Porcello's ERA on the season only jumped from 4.44 to 4.76 after Wednesday's debacle. Yet until his sixth and final inning, he was still in a competitive game.
"He was pitching well and we were in the game," catcher Alex Avila said of Porcello. "All of a sudden, [Shane] Victorino got on, I made a throwing error and it just unraveled after that."
Porcello went 145 Major League starts without giving up more than two homers in a game, but he gave up homers to three of the first 13 batters he faced. All three came from left-handed hitters who pulled the ball to right, not from hitters lofting fly balls over the Green Monster in left. Stephen Drew hit a two-run shot down the right-field line and around the Pesky Pole in the second inning, followed by solo homers from Jacoby Ellsbury down the line in the third and David Ortiz towards the gap in the fourth.
Left-handed hitters have always hit Porcello, including a .309 average this year. By working inside to them, and by developing his curveball, he had kept their home run total low, just seven over 301 at-bats entering Wednesday -- a lower rate than he had allowed to right-handers.
Wednesday became the correction.
"Ricky was trying to get the ball up a little higher and in," Leyland said, "and got it down and in. A lot of times, lefties just drop the head of the bat and hit home runs, and that's what they did."
Porcello was still battling in a tie game after four innings because the three homers resulted in just four runs. He didn't begin to give up extra baserunners until the middle innings, and even then, it didn't doom him to defeat until the sixth. Victorino's stolen base and an errant throw from Avila made the go-ahead run in the fifth an unearned tally off Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.
In the end, Porcello's fate wasn't tied so much to a career high in home runs as to a season high in walks. He hadn't walked more than three batters in a game since 2010, his second year in the big leagues. Porcello walked three out of four batters he faced in the sixth -- one to Daniel Nava to lead off the inning, another intentionally to Drew to load the bases after Mike Napoli's double, the last one unintentionally to pinch-hitter Mike Carp.
"Obviously leadoff walks come around to score pretty frequently in this league," said Porcello, who gave up nine runs (eight earned). "I think failure to get anybody out after that is pretty big, too. Napoli hits a double off the wall and I put myself in a tough position, second and third with nobody out."
The last two walks were an effort on Leyland's part to try to keep the game close. If Porcello could get a double play from Carp, they'd face a three-run deficit, but they would still be in it.
"I was trying to come out of that with one [run] or nothing," Leyland said. "Drew had smoked a home run off of him. I didn't want to give up another run or two. If we could come out with one, it's OK. … You figure with the lefty, if he could get the ball on the ground and get the double play, they've got one run and then you've got Middlebrooks behind him. But when he walked him, it just looked to me like he was spent, so you brought Alburquerque in to go for the strikeout."
Alburquerque, the strikeout specialist with a nasty slider his previous two seasons, didn't give up a home run over his first 71 career regular-season appearances. He has now given up five homers in his last 19 1/3 innings, including Middlebrooks' homer to make it a 10-4 game and Daniel Nava's two-run shot to make it 13-4.
"The ball was carrying here tonight, obviously," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "The lead changed hands a couple of times until we got to the sixth, and Will's grand slam gave us a little breathing room and we kept going."