Tigers' ninth-inning rally falls short

Tigers' ninth-inning rally falls short

DETROIT -- A white dry erase board in the Tigers' clubhouse depicted a famous quote in black marker from Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lambardi.

"It's not whether you get knocked down. It's whether you get back up," it reads.

How fitting.

It wraps up the Tigers' season in a cozy nutshell. They tripped Opening Day and have never fully regained their balance, instead just wobbling above and below the .500 mark.

It also summarized their most recent loss. They fell behind early and couldn't complete the comeback. The Tigers' postseason hopes continued to fade with a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night before 30,073 fans at Comerica Park. They trail the White Sox by 9 1/2 games in the American League Central.

If this really is a now-or-never situation, the Tigers have swayed a little more towards never with four games left on this homestand.

"I want to emphasize that effort is not a problem, but it's easy to have a letdown sometimes when it looks like you're slipping away a little bit," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's easy to get caught up in that if you're not careful."

Those in attendance had little reason to cheer until the ninth.

Down 4-0, the Tigers used a walk and a single to put runners at the corners with no outs. Miguel Cabrera's groundout to third cut the deficit to three. Jays center fielder Alex Rios dropped Matt Joyce's fly ball to center, putting runners on second and third. Edgar Renteria's two-out double to right-center off hard-throwing reliever Brandon League to make it 4-3.

But League struck out Brandon Inge looking to hand Detroit its third straight defeat.

"We're playing just good enough to get beat," Leyland said. "That's not good at all. You got to do the things it takes to win, and obviously, we're falling a little short right now."

Detroit managed just two hits against Jays rookie starter David Purcey, who came into the game with an ERA over seven and a road ERA over 14. The young left-hander went six innings, allowing no runs and struck out four.

"He's in the Major Leagues for a reason," Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "He's going to make adjustments and not always pitch how he has in the past. That's why he's up here."

Purcey fanned Magglio Ordonez and Cabrera in the first inning and didn't cool off until rain delayed the game 49 minutes in the seventh inning. Purcey didn't allow a hit until Ramon Santiago lined a single just over the head of Jays second baseman David Eckstein with two down in the fifth.

Detroit's only other hit off Purcey came in the sixth on a single to center by Ordonez, who raised his average to .319. But Cabrera followed with a double-play grounder to end the inning.

Tigers starter Kenny Rogers didn't have a bad outing; he just had some bad luck and made one bad pitch during his 6 1/3 innings of four-run ball.

Jays leadoff man Marco Scutaro started the third with a five-pitch walk. Eckstein, the 2006 World Series MVP for the Cardinals when they faced the Tigers, hustled for a bunt single, though television replays showed Cabrera applied a tag at first. Nonetheless, it led to the most unfortunate bounce of the game.

Rios hit a routine ground ball to third baseman Santiago, who started in place of the injured Carlos Guillen. As Santiago prepared to vacuum it off the dirt, the ball took an awkward skip and nearly hit Santiago in the face, turning a potential double play into a bases-loaded, no-out situation for the Jays with cleanup man Vernon Wells up next.

Wells crushed Rogers' first pitch into the Detroit bullpen in left for a 4-0 lead.

"Nobody really made a mistake in that inning," Rogers said. "I would get the pitch to Vernon down a hair, but that's about it. Things just aren't going our way right now."

That one swing proved enough to knock the Tigers to their 13th loss in their last 21 games.

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