DETROIT – They entered the World Series a collection of stars rivaling any team in baseball.
Then one by one, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera fell short in the season's final test.
It ended with Cabrera at the plate, watching the third strike that finished Detroit's season. So close to their first championship since 1984, the Tigers were vanquished in a sweep few saw coming, losing four straight to the San Francisco Giants.
The finale was 4-3 in 10 innings. Cabrera homered in Game 4 on Sunday night, but Fielder's struggles persisted, and Verlander never had another chance to pitch after he was knocked around in Game 1.
"You remember this feeling all winter, and it makes you want to come back and try this again," Verlander said. "I've lost twice, and it doesn't get easier. It gets harder. I don't want to do this a third time."
Detroit lost in five games to St. Louis in the 2006 World Series. This showing was even worse.
In both years, the Tigers won the AL championship series in a sweep, then looked out of sorts in the Fall Classic. Detroit was shut out by the Giants in Games 2 and 3, and lost Sunday despite Cabrera's two-run homer in the third inning.
It was Cabrera's popup that wasted Detroit's best chance in Game 3 — and the Triple Crown winner made the last out of the series, striking out looking to end the 10th on Sunday.
"We could not find our game in the World Series," Cabrera said. "We were looking in the whole series to get ahead, but they pitched good, they pitched great and they beat us."
Before Game 3 on Saturday, there was still an old scorecard posted in the Detroit dugout at Comerica Park, left over from practice games the Tigers had played with instructional league players during the layoff between an ALCS sweep of the New York Yankees and the World Series. Those workouts were supposed to prevent rust, and the scorecard actually listed both Fielder and Cabrera as designated hitters in the same lineup — a sign of how informal the games were.
Two DHs? Neither player hit well enough in the World Series to merit that distinction. Cabrera was 3 for 13 and Fielder was 1 for 14.
"It is unfortunate, but we played as hard as we could. Losing to the World Series champions isn't too bad," Fielder said. "We played good baseball, but they just beat us. We had a great season to get to the playoffs, and we played well to get to the World Series. You just don't get to write your own script."
The Tigers had a chance to take control in Game 1 with Verlander on the mound in San Francisco. But he gave up five runs in four innings in what would be his only appearance of a series that didn't go at all as planned for Detroit.
"I'm a little bit flabbergasted to be honest with you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "In both of those series, I never would have thought that we would have swept the New York Yankees, and I never would have thought that the Giants would have swept us, but it happened. It's a freaky game."
The Tigers at least mounted one last comeback Sunday. Cabrera's wind-blown, two-run drive put Detroit up 2-1 for its first lead of the series. When Buster Posey gave the Giants a 3-2 lead with a sixth-inning homer, Detroit tied it immediately in the bottom half on a solo shot by Delmon Young.
But that was it.
The Tigers wouldn't score again, and the vaunted middle of their batting order wasn't heard from. After a leadoff walk in the eighth, Cabrera, Fielder and Young struck out in succession, and there was a sense that one more San Francisco run would win it.
Marco Scutaro delivered it, singling home the tiebreaking run in the 10th.
"For us to play like we did against this great club, I couldn't be prouder of these guys," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Now Detroit will have to come back next year and try again to reward owner Mike Ilitch with a title after his big spending. It was Ilitch who signed off on the $214 million deal that made Fielder a Tiger in the offseason.
"I'm disappointed for Mr. Ilitch. We wanted this bad for him," Leyland said. "But when you've been in the game a long time, somebody wins and somebody loses."