In the end, while Detroit had no shortage of drama and highlights, the result was disappointment. In many ways, the 8-7 loss to the Rays was a snapshot of the Tigers' 2008 campaign, and it showed some of the reasons why the season will end on Monday rather than continue into October.
"It's gone on a lot this year," manager Jim Leyland said. "We had a lead late in the game, and we couldn't hold it."
This one came against a Tampa Bay club headed for the postseason after clinching the American League East title two days earlier. Sunday was one final regular-season tuneup for the Rays, who pulled starter James Shields after a 10-pitch opening inning to prepare him for the upcoming AL Division Series.
Still, it was a game the Rays (97-65) were playing to win as much as they could without risking their readiness for the Division Series. For the Tigers, it was a chance for their first four-game series sweep since 2006.
A three-run homer and four RBIs from Curtis Granderson gave Detroit a chance to convert a solid season finale for Zach Miner into a victory. Once that vanished, Magglio Ordonez's game-tying two-run homer in the ninth gave the Tigers another chance by sending the game into extra innings.
In the end, shortstop Ben Zobrist's fourth home run of the series, this one an 11th-inning solo shot, left Detroit with its 13th defeat of the season when leading a game after seven innings.
Sunday was another chance for Gary Sheffield to get his 500th career home run. He couldn't get it, but when he pulled Edwin Jackson's (14-11) payoff pitch into left field for a leadoff single in the ninth, Sheffield got the would-be tying run to the plate. Ordonez worked out of an 0-2 count to belt a 2-2 pitch deep to left for his 21st home run of the year.
Zobrist entered this series with eight home runs on the season and a .235 average. His two-homer game in Thursday's opener rivaled Tigers infielder Ramon Santiago's two-homer attack, though it went for naught. This time, Zobrist's drive to right field off of Chris Lambert (1-2) took the air out a crowd that showed life throughout the afternoon.
The Tigers (74-87) announced after the game that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and bullpen coach Jeff Jones would not be retained for next year. However, that decision had been made earlier in the week.
"It's one of the unfortunate things," Leyland said. "In situations like this, you know somebody's going to pay. If it was next year at this time, it would be me."
Shields and Mitch Talbot combined to retire Detroit's first seven hitters before Brandon Inge's one-out double and a nine-pitch walk to Santiago set up Granderson's 22nd home run of the year.
By contrast, much of the damage in the fourth came from free passes. Talbot recovered from Edgar Renteria's leadoff single to retire Dusty Ryan, but Talbot walked the next four batters. Walks to Granderson and Sheffield came with the bases loaded, allowing Renteria and Inge to score.
That gave some support to Miner, whose six solid innings in a tough spot left him in position to earn what would've been his first win since Aug. 29. He was perfect through four innings before Rocco Baldelli's leadoff homer in the fifth and Eric Hinske's two-run shot later in the inning slugged the Rays back into the game.
Miner found out about the coaching changes before the game, and he gave Hernandez a hug after completing his pregame warmups in the bullpen. Miner finished with three runs on four hits in six innings with six strikeouts.
"All you can really control is how you pitch," Miner said, "and I felt like I ended the season on a pretty good note."
Casey Fossum escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh with an inning-ending double play, but Detroit wasn't so fortunate once two singles and a walk off Fossum loaded them again with nobody out in the eighth. Freddy Dolsi entered to face Jonny Gomes, whose drive cleared Granderson and one-hopped the fence in right-center for a game-tying two-run double. Zobrist pulled the Rays ahead with an RBI single prior to a bases-loaded walk to Hinske.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.