Finishing a game is tougher than simply getting an out.
"I think everybody in the bullpen is finding out how tough Todd Jones' job was. That's what I think," manager Jim Leyland said after Nick Swisher's three-run home run sent the Tigers to their fifth straight defeat after holding leads of 6-1 and 8-6. "It's a tough job. Everybody thinks they can get the 27th out. It's a little tougher than people think.
"It was a heck of a battle. But if you can't hold one-run, two-run leads late -- I'm talking about anybody -- you're not going to win the game."
The Tigers lost for the ninth time this season when leading after the seventh inning, but they lasted seven more innings before this loss unfolded. They've won two games over the past month lasting 13 innings or more, essentially outlasting the other team's pitching staff. This time, they had to feel how it felt on the short end of a long battle in which they had their chances to win.
"When you need three outs to win the game [and lose it], it's tough luck," said Placido Polanco, whose second home run of the night pulled the Tigers ahead in the 14th. "What can you do? We're all professionals here. Turn the page."
The first lead was early and big. Detroit batted around in a four-run fifth inning to build a five-run lead, fueled in part from Curtis Granderson's two-run homer and one of four Ryan Raburn singles on the night.
Bolstered with a five-run lead and an early exit from Tigers killer Gavin Floyd, Detroit gave back one run in the bottom of the inning on a Carlos Quentin RBI single. Two batters and six pitches into the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox were back in it with a Paul Konerko two-run homer.
Quentin struck again in the seventh with his 29th home run of the year, a seventh-inning solo shot off Aquilino Lopez to cut the lead to one. Bobby Seay stranded the potential tying run at second by striking out Jim Thome, then retired the first two batters in the eighth. With Alexei Ramirez batting .354 against left-handed pitching as he entered the night, however, Kyle Farnsworth entered to try to sew it up. Ramirez pounced on a hanging slider and sent it on a line to left to tie the game.
That's where it stayed for the next five innings while the two bullpens went through a battle of attrition, starting with Farnsworth's recovery to hold down the White Sox in the ninth. Fernando Rodney, whose late-inning struggles over the past week had characterized Detroit's bullpen woes, turned in one of his strongest outings of the year with three hitless innings and five strikeouts. His outs -- not only the number, but the efficiency -- gave the bullpen an edge after being summoned so early in the game.
He wouldn't have gotten the win when Polanco homered to pull the Tigers ahead again -- Freddy Dolsi faced the White Sox in the 13th -- but he certainly would've gotten a good share of credit. The Tigers had saved Joel Zumaya to close down a lead in the final inning, whenever that came. Once he took the mound for the bottom of the 14th, he was the Tigers' last reliever available.
"We had all the momentum going for us," Leyland said. "We had Zumaya coming in. Just didn't get it done tonight."
They came tantalizingly close.
Orlando Cabrera's single leading off the bottom of the inning and Quentin's one-out double promptly put the potential tying run in scoring position against Zumaya (0-1). He recovered to induce what should've been a big out to Jermaine Dye, but the ground ball hit off the base of Edgar Renteria's glove and kicked back toward the mound for an error.
"I don't know what happened," Renteria said. "I thought I played the ball perfect. Everything was right. I don't know what happened at the last minute."
He didn't know what happened, but he tried to take the blame.
"I have to make that play," he said. "I lost the game."
Even with the out, though, the White Sox would've still had the tying run on base for the middle of their order. Zumaya, seemingly energized, hit 99 mph on the stadium radar gun on his way to sending down Jim Thome swinging for the second out and keeping the Tigers ahead. After falling behind on Swisher, however, he left a fastball over the plate.
With that, a night that could've changed the Tigers' fortunes ended with familiar struggles.
"You find out it's not that easy," Leyland said, "no matter who's out there."