Tigers fall to Rays in extra innings

Tigers drop hard-fought heartbreaker in 12th

DETROIT -- Todd Jones blew his third save in five appearances on Wednesday night and the Tigers lost, 5-1. It was their first loss in five games and came about after the Detroit closer gave up four runs in the top of the 12th to Tampa Bay.

"I'm doing everything I can out there," Jones said. "I'm confident, I'm focused. I make some pitches and then I don't. This is the big leagues. This is a tough league, but I'm getting in the trenches and I'm going to figure out a way to get out of them."

Jones' blown save, coupled with Tampa Bay starter Mark Hendrickson's outing, spoiled one of the best games of 23-year-old Jeremy Bonderman's career.

Bonderman struck out a season-high 12 batters and joined former 30-game winner Denny McClain and Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser as the only Tigers pitchers to strikeout 500 batters before their 24th birthday. Bonderman will not turn 24 until October 28.

"I'm starting to get more comfortable out there. I'm getting better, plain and simple," Bonderman said. "The more games I pitch the better I'm going to be. I just have to keep working and we'll see what happens."

Bonderman will also continue to place his confidence in the bullpen.

"Todd's a great pitcher and he's here for a reason," Bonderman said. "He saved 40 games last year and he has [243] saves in his career. Todd's a great pitcher and I respect him a lot."

Jones, the former All-Star who tallied his 40 saves last season for Florida before returning to Detroit as a free agent, ranks third among American League leaders with 17 saves.

Until Jones hit Rays center fielder Rocco Baldelli on an 0-2 fastball, the veteran right-hander was one pitch away from ending the 12th inning with two runners stranded and the game still tied. Toby Hall and Travis Lee led off the inning with back-to-back singles before Jones fielded Julio Lugo's sacrifice-bunt attempt and daringly threw to third, barely beating pinch-runner Josh Paul for the out.

The hit-by-pitch of Baldelli extended the inning for Jorge Cantu, who hit a 1-1 pitch into the right-center-field gap past Curtis Granderson to score all three.

"I overthrew to Baldelli and hung a slider to Cantu and I paid dearly for it," Jones said. "It's frustrating when I'm trying to get out of a pitching slump."

The struggles began here 15 days ago, and they've usually involved his second inning of work. Pitching in another extra-innings game against the Yankees, Jones retired the side in order in the 10th before giving up five in the 11th. He was an out away from closing out a win over the Red Sox three days later before Mike Lowell singled and Kevin Youkilis hit a go-ahead homer. He entered in a hurry in the eighth inning last Friday at Toronto and retired none of the four batters he faced.

"I don't really know that he did everything so bad," Manager Jim Leyland said of his latest outing. "I think if we would've had a one-run lead in the ninth inning tonight, I think he would've saved the game."

Tampa Bay's pitching performance ensured that was not going to happen. Hendrickson did not allow a hit from the time Detroit leadoff man Granderson singled in the bottom of the first until Ivan Rodriguez began the bottom of the ninth with an infield single.

The left-hander's latest start was very different from the last time he faced the Tigers on July 10, 2005, when he lasted 3 2/3 innings and gave up six runs.

Brian Meadows, who took the loss in extra innings on Monday night, added two scoreless frames before Tim Corcoran finished off the 12th.

"We played great," Bonderman said. "Our guys came out and battled. We put together a good run in the ninth, we got back in it and we had a shot to win it. That's all it takes. Sometimes you have to tip your cap."

Sam Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.