Max Scherzer outdueled and outlasted Jon Lester in a matchup of two of the best pitchers in the game.
"I enjoy these matchups a lot more when we win," said Lester. "Obviously we've had a couple of these this year. I was fortunate to be on the other side of the one in Chicago [against White Sox ace Chris Sale]."
Over six-plus innings, Scherzer limited the Red Sox to three hits while walking four and striking out seven.
"It's a great one, especially against a team like that," said Scherzer. "I didn't pitch my best, but when runners were on base and I needed big pitches, I made big pitches. That's the difference in the game."
It was the third loss in four games for the Red Sox, who slipped back below .500 at 20-21.
"I really don't feel like we've hit our stride on both ends of the baseball. The nights that we pitch well and hit well, we don't play good defense," said Lester. "The nights we don't pitch well, we hit well. You look at our division, we're not far off. I don't think there's any worry or any type of panic. Just keep grinding it out."
Though Lester minimized the damage, allowing just one run, the Tigers worked him for 94 pitches over five innings. He walked three and struck out seven, giving way to Burke Badenhop in the sixth.
Under normal circumstances, Lester would have gone another inning, or perhaps even two. But he had to sit through a 47-minute rain delay during the top of the fourth.
"With the rain delay, you know, we were in that situation where nearly an hour [passed and I] wasn't going to push Jon any more than the five innings tonight," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "To think that one run in the first inning was going to be the difference in this one, we probably didn't anticipate that. It was a well-pitched game on both sides."
When Mike Carp opened the seventh by dunking in a single toward the left-field line, the Red Sox got what they wanted as Scherzer (106 pitches) was removed from the game.
But Detroit's bullpen picked up the ace and got the job done. Though Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch to make it runners at first and second with nobody out, Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out and pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski grounded into a double play to end the threat.
Farrell had sent Pierzynski up against right-hander Evan Reed, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus countered with lefty Ian Krol. Farrell might have countered with right-handed hitting Jonny Gomes if Shane Victorino (knee injury) had been available.
"With Vic's status, Jonny was the last player remaining," said Farrell.
Making it more painful was that the Red Sox let a similar golden opportunity slip away against Scherzer in the sixth. In that instance, David Ross led off with a single and Dustin Pedroia walked. Grady Sizemore hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Ausmus then called for an intentional walk of David Ortiz, and Scherzer baffled Mike Napoli looking on a 1-2 changeup to end the threat.
The storyline has become all too familiar to the Red Sox. Is it getting past the point of mere frustration?
"I wouldn't say maddening," Farrell said. "Once again, it's a consistent story where the opportunities are created and as much as we continue to put trust in guys to drive in a run, it's been elusive."
Lester labored in the first, throwing 27 pitches. Torii Hunter gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with an RBI single up the middle.
Scherzer was nothing short of nasty in the early innings. He didn't allow a hit over the first 3 2/3 innings, and struck out the side in the third.
In the fourth, the Red Sox got their first hit, as Ortiz clubbed a single off the bullpen wall in right-center. Ortiz turned awkwardly around first, but shook off whatever was bothering him and stayed in the game.
"I felt like I threw the ball pretty well with the exception of the first," said Lester. "I got myself in a little bit of a jam there and minimized the damage and get out of there with one. I really didn't think one was going to stand up tonight, but it did."