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Tigers bullpen cannot maintain lead

Tigers bullpen cannot maintain lead

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DETROIT -- The drama was thick. So, as it turned out, was the frustration.

While the Indians were rallying on the shores of Lake Erie, capped by a walk-off homer, the Tigers and Rangers traded rallies a few hours away. When it was all over, Cleveland and Detroit were tied again atop the American League Central.

The Tigers, meanwhile, were tied up in knots.

"I let the team down tonight; I let the skipper down tonight," Todd Jones said after Marlon Byrd's two-run triple helped send the Tigers to their second straight loss to Texas with a 9-6 defeat at Comerica Park.

"I made a bad, A-ball, mental mistake. There's absolutely no excuse for what I did tonight."

Jones usually walks off the field in victory or defeat. He'll sometimes walk off the field in a tie game if it's going to extra innings. But he rarely ever walks off the mound in the middle of an inning. Rarer, still, does he walk off with this much frustration.

His teammates wouldn't have him shoulder it on his own. A five-run Rangers rally in the seventh helped in part by two Tiger errors spread the feeling.

"Everybody's upset, not only him," catcher Mike Rabelo said. "We all are upset. We didn't play very well these last two nights. So, yeah, everybody in this clubhouse is upset."

Manager Jim Leyland's postgame remarks lasted mere seconds.

"I'll make this real simple for everybody: We got outpitched and outmanaged, outplayed, outhit," he said. "We lost and good night."

Jones entered in the ninth inning of a tie game after the Tigers had erased a three-run deficit in the eighth. He retired the first two batters he faced before a five-pitch walk to Michael Young, barely missing the corner on a 3-1 pitch to extend the inning.

Up stepped Sammy Sosa, fresh off his 600th career home run last week, but 3-for-15 with seven strikeouts lifetime against Jones. After a first pitch called strike that had Sosa turning his back to the ball and a second-pitch foul ball on which Sosa was well out in front, Jones had Sosa crossed up.

As it turned out, so was Jones. He paced around the mound after the foul ball and stepped back on for the 0-2 pitch, which apparently wasn't supposed to be one.

"We missed a sign," Rabelo said. "We weren't supposed to deliver the ball on that pitch. We just missed a sign."

The intended play was for Jones to step off the rubber and look Young back to first base. Instead, Jones delivered an 0-2 pitch that Sosa lined into left field. The play completed a 3-for-4 night for Sosa, who had an RBI double and a sacrifice fly in his previous two at-bats.

"I don't guess with the pitcher," Sosa said. "I was just trying to make solid contact."

Replays showed Rabelo getting out of his crouch and looking out to Jones in confusion as the ball traveled into left field.

"As simple as I can say it, I missed a sign," Jones said. "And it cost us the game. You can't do what I did tonight and I did it and I feel awful."

Actually, the Sosa single didn't change the game. It only put runners at first and second for Marlon Byrd, who had never faced Jones. However, Rabelo and Jones still appeared to be crossed up. Rabelo visited the mound after Sosa's hit, then after the first two pitches to Byrd as well.

Byrd ended up lining a 2-1 fastball that caught too much of the outside part of the plate. The ball bounced past Magglio Ordonez's attempt to cut it off and continued into the corner while both runners scored. Ramon Vazquez, brought in as a defensive replacement when the Rangers had the lead an inning earlier, singled in Byrd from there and chased Jones from the game.

As difficult as it was on Jones, it was a continuation of a rough game all around for the Tigers.

The rally restored the three-run Rangers advantage that the Tigers had erased an inning earlier -- ironically, off one of the hotter relievers on the trade market and a potential Tigers trade target. Akinori Otsuka (2-1), in whom Detroit has reportedly expressed interest, loaded the bases with two walks and a single before Sean Casey's two-run single and Craig Monroe's sacrifice fly tied the game.

Down three again in the ninth with Rangers closer Eric Gagne on the mound, the Tigers still managed to bring the potential tying run to the plate in the form of the Majors' leading hitter. Brandon Inge's leadoff single and a two-out walk to Gary Sheffield brought up Ordonez. Gagne fired a first-pitch strike, caught Ordonez check-swinging at a pitch on the outside corner for strike two, then tried unsuccessfully to induce Ordonez to chase three pitches out of the strike zone.

With the count full and runners in motion, Gagne fired a 94 mph fastball past Ordonez to nail his eighth save. It came within minutes and miles of Kelly Shoppach's walk-off homer in Cleveland off A's reliever Alan Embree.

All nine Rangers runs scored came with Tigers relievers on the mound. Nate Robertson, who came off the disabled list to make his first start since the Rangers knocked him out without retiring a batter three weeks ago, left with one out in the sixth with a 3-0 lead and runners at the corners. Jason Grilli ended that threat with Sosa's sacrifice fly, but Brad Wilkerson's three-run homer in the seventh off Tim Byrdak put the Rangers in front.

Before the game, the question surrounding the Tigers was how they would handle the eighth inning without Fernando Rodney, who was placed on the DL with forearm and shoulder tendonitis. A scoreless inning from Eulogio De La Cruz and the Tigers' rally made sure the eighth was no problem. Instead, the innings surrounding it proved important.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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