Instead, the 4-2 loss on Thursday night sent Detroit to a doubleheader sweep, three losses in the four-game series and second place in the American League Central.
At this point the standings aren't a major concern for the Tigers. Normally, too, two losses in May -- even in the same day -- shouldn't feel shattering. However, as they readied for a late-night flight back home after spending about 15 hours at Fenway Park, this one left a bitter taste.
"Obviously, it's a long grind and a good club," manager Jim Leyland said. "We certainly had our opportunities. I don't think that we came in and got embarrassed. And I don't think anybody's going to leave here thinking the Tigers don't have a good team, including the Red Sox. It was their day."
With one different bounce or one more hit, it could've at least been the Tigers' night. Combined with their 2-1 defeat in the day game, Detroit left 16 runners on base and went 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position. The nightcap marked the first time in at least 50 years that the Tigers had that many extra-base hits in a game in which they scored two runs or fewer, according to BaseballReference.com.
Yet after three strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the first two innings, the Tigers did put the ball in play in RBI opportunities, several times with authority.
"Bad timing," Brandon Inge said. "There were a lot of balls hit hard."
Detroit left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings against Boston starter Curt Schilling, who was within a ball of walking in a run in the first. Carlos Guillen had a 3-0 count before Schilling sent him down swinging at a fastball. Sean Casey followed with a drive that sent right fielder Hinske to the warning track before running it down.
That was the first of the drives that hurt.
"The wind killed it, I guess," said Casey, who remains homerless on the season. "I thought 100 percent, for sure, off the bat that it was gone."
An inning later, Schilling followed a Rabelo double with back-to-back two-out walks to load the bases for Gary Sheffield, who'd struck out looking with two on in the first. This time Sheffield hit a bouncer to third but nearly escaped as Polanco tried to beat the throw to second. Second-base umpire Gary Darling ruled that the ball beat a sliding Polanco to the bag.
Sheffield has seen plenty of Schilling, and little of it good for him. And with his early opportunities squandered, he wasn't getting a good feeling.
"I just felt like the way the game was going, we had opportunities," said Sheffield, who went 0-for-4 against Schilling to drop to 14-for-70 (.200) lifetime against him. "We just didn't come through. You can't give them second, third, fourth chances like we did. I left a ton of guys out there that I normally drive in, but I felt good out there. That's all you can do -- put good swings on it and hope for the best."
That set the tone for the rest of the evening. Though back-to-back doubles from Magglio Ordonez and Guillen in the third and Inge's solo homer off the top of the Green Monster in the fourth gave the Tigers a lead, they couldn't convert a one-out double from Polanco in the fourth and Guillen's leadoff two-bagger in the fifth.
The latter, however, required an outstretched Hinske for Schilling to escape. Guillen moved to third with one out but was caught in a rundown on a Marcus Thames ground ball. With Thames on second and two outs, Rabelo hit a hard line drive toward the right-field line.
Inge, who was on deck, was incredulous.
"As soon as he hit it, [I thought] sure double, RBI," Inge said. "That's as far as he could get."
Rabelo was thinking more than that until he saw Hinske stretch out and catch it, his head bouncing hard off the ground when he landed.
"If he didn't catch that ball when I saw him leave his feet? Triple," Rabelo said. "He just happened to make probably one of the most unbelievable catches I've ever seen. That was unbelievable. He was six feet off the ground."
Tigers starter Chad Durbin stranded the bases loaded in the second and cruised for a few innings afterward. A one-out error by Inge and walk to Wily Mo Pena chased Durbin and started Boston's game-tying rally in the sixth. Wilfredo Ledezma's two-out walk to Coco Crisp extended the inning for Alex Cora, who hit a slow roller to the first-base side of the mound that left Polanco with no play as Hinske came home.
"That's why this is such a great game," Leyland said. "Rabelo hit that ball like a bullet down the line. Hinske makes a great play. Willie makes a great pitch on Cora and jams him, and the ball doesn't make the dirt in the infield, and they get a run out of it. That's certainly not taking anything away from them. That could've happened for us. That's just the way this game is."
So, too, as Rabelo pointed out, is the idea of a defensive gem followed by a clutch hit. When Hinske came up again with two outs in the seventh, Ledezma fell behind on a 2-0 count and had to challenge him with a fastball. Hinske belted it to right-center for a two-run shot.
With that, a 15-hour day at the park seemed even longer. The Tigers left with about 20 hours remaining before the first pitch of their World Series rematch with the Cardinals.
"We did a lot of things right in this game," Inge said. "We battled. We made [Schilling] get his pitch count up. We hit the ball right at people. It didn't add up. It just didn't. And to add it all, that's three games out of four they took from us. That's hard to swallow."