The Tigers played far from their best on Wednesday night, but still managed to keep it close in the 5-3 loss to the Rays, even though Detroit was shut out after the first inning by James Shields, who tossed a complete game.
"He's aggressive, he's got all the pitches, he's the real deal," Tigers manager Jim Leyland observed afterward. "He didn't cave in either, he actually got tougher as the game went on. I like the way he ... didn't panic and stayed within himself."
The Tigers jumped on Shields early, which turned out to be the only time they'd succeed as they were unable to even advance a runner to second base after the first inning.
Curtis Granderson hit a leadoff triple to straightaway center to start the game. It appeared to hit above the yellow line on the wall which designates a home run. Umpires ruled otherwise, but the center fielder scored anyway on a Placido Polanco single on the next play.
Detroit tacked on another two runs before the inning was over thanks to Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames, who each pounded out run-scoring singles.
Things were looking up for Detroit until Shields found his mark, and retired 24 of the final 27 batters he faced without much protest. It took him 105 pitches to secure the 27 outs he needed.
"That guy's good," Leyland said. "We jumped him early ... then he settled in and pitched very well. He's aggressive, he's got a good changeup, he uses both sides of the plate, his curveball, his cutter. I was very impressed with him."
The Tigers might not have had such praise for the 25-year-old as they were sent to the dugout empty-handed after the majority of their trips to the plate. Five Tigers earned hits off of Shields in the first inning, but there were just two hits afterward -- one in the fourth from Marcus Thames and one in the eighth by Gary Sheffield, both of whom finished 2-for-4.
To his credit, Detroit starter Nate Robertson put forth a solid effort on the mound. Robertson kept the Rays' damage under control through the first four innings, but the right-hander's pitch count crept into the 70s during the fifth, and things began to unravel for him soon after.
Robertson has battled early, high pitch counts over his last few starts, and said going into his latest start that he had had a good bullpen session and he thought he cleared up his problems.
"It's frustrating," he said. "I got [the Rays] off of my stuff away and my changeup. A lot of balls found holes, and I'll just have to go to work again in my next side session, and go from there."
First up in the fifth, Elijah Dukes blasted a leadoff homer over the left-field wall. Then, B.J. Upton singled. He managed to advance to third on a botched pickoff throw from Robertson, and then scored on a single to tie the game. That got the bullpen hopping, and Robertson's exit was imminent.
It didn't happen until the next inning, though, after Tampa Bay had put another run on the board to take the lead, this time on a Brendan Harris homer that earned Robertson the hook in favor of Zach Miner.
When asked whether it was more upsetting to serve up two home runs or commit a throwing error, Robertson didn't hesitate.
"The only thing that's inexcusable was ... I threw the ball away," he said. "We had a one-run lead and you get the tying run on third base. You can't have errors like that."
Still, there were just two pitches Robertson said he'd like to take back if he could -- Harris' third-inning single, and Dukes' home run.
"Other than that," Robertson said, "hits find holes. If the ball goes a couple of feet in either direction, it's a different ballgame."
During the last five starts, opponents are hitting .387 off of Robertson, who was understandably frustrated after he scattered six singles out of nine total hits Wednesday. It's a pattern that's well-documented over his last four starts, when just 10 of his 36 hits went for extra bases.
"[The number] is ridiculous," he said. "You're talking six, seven, eight singles a game. Solo shots are not going to kill you, but throw together a few singles, and that scores runs."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.