The Detroit Tigers remain atop the American League Central standings, now just one game ahead of the Cleveland Indians, but if they insist on going to extra innings as much as they have through the first 79 contests in 2013, that lead could be gone in mere days.
This afternoon the Tigers try to work their way back into the win column as they close out a three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays on the road, just one day after coming up short in a 4-3 final in 10 innings at Tropicana Field.
For Detroit, which has now dropped four of the last five games overall, it was the 11th extra-inning game of the season. The club has bowed in all but two of the contests which have been extended beyond nine innings. The Tigers led by a run heading into the bottom of the eighth, but with one out Luke Scott connected on his fifth home run of the season to tie the game.
After coming up empty in both the ninth and 10th innings, Detroit watched Yunel Escobar's single to center score Sam Fuld for the game winner, which means the Tigers have now lost seven times in walk-off fashion this season, one more than they had all of 2012.
"[The win was] just indicative of what we're capable of doing, playing against the best teams well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "There was a great vibe in the dugout tonight. Our guys came out ready to play. It was a great comeback."
Reliever Fernando Rodney was awarded the win for Tampa Bay, a club which snapped a two-game slide and is now six games out of first in the American League East. Rodney pitched two shutout innings for the hosts, offsetting two hits by striking out a couple of batters.
Rays starter Chris Archer permitted three runs on five hits and three walks in five innings before heading to the showers.
Ben Zobrist and James Loney both delivered three hits and an RBI for Tampa Bay.
The Tigers squandered yet another strong effort by Justin Verlander as the hurler made it through eight innings with just two earned runs allowed. Verlander scattered nine hits and walked four, but struck out just four along the way as well.
"I thought Verlander was really locked in from about the fifth inning on," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "He was absolutely terrific. I thought that was the best that he's thrown in a long time. As the game went on, his stuff got much, much better."
Victor Martinez posted three hits and scored once for the visitors, while Jhonny Peralta knocked in two runs in the losing effort. Austin Jackson went deep for his fourth home run of the season as well.
Scheduled to make the start for the Tigers on Sunday is right-hander Rick Porcello, seeking to snap a personal two-game slide when he takes the mound. The New Jersey native has spent all of his five major league seasons with Detroit and has a career mark of 52-47 to show for his efforts.
However, Porcello has dropped two consecutive outings after bowing to the Angels on Tuesday at home in a 14-8 final. Porcello was around for just 4 1/3 innings as he surrendered seven runs on 10 hits and a couple of walks. Unfortunately, it was the second time in as many games for Porcello that his team gave up at least 13 runs.
As far as his experience against Tampa Bay is concerned, Porcello is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in four appearances.
Countering for the Rays today will be Jeremy Hellickson who has won two straight and four of his last five outings. Despite having an ERA above five at the moment, the right-hander has lost only once since the beginning of May.
Hellickson last took the hill on Monday against Toronto, limiting opposing batters to just a single hit through seven shutout innings of action. Granted, Hellickson did walk four in the 4-1 victory, but he offset those with four strikeouts.
For his career, Hellickson is just 1-3 in four games versus the Tigers, somewhat puzzling since he has a mere 1.96 ERA in 23 innings.
Detroit, which leads the season series by a 3-2 count, won 11 of the 14 meetings between the squads the previous two years.