The Tigers starter had hit a wall in the third inning of Thursday's game against the Red Sox. After starting the inning by hitting Jacoby Ellsbury, Willis walked four batters and allowed two runs to score, before he was removed from his shortest outing of the year. The Red Sox scored six runs in that inning, enough for a 6-3 win and a series sweep.
Willis (1-3) spent the first part of the year on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder diagnosed during Spring Training. Since rejoining the Tigers on May 13, he said he has been focusing on forgetting the previous pitch. He had been relatively successful with that approach, compiling two quality starts in four outings. But Thursday's game, Willis said, marked the first time this year he was unable to do that.
"This is the first time I was really flustered on the mound," Willis said. "I threw some good pitches, didn't get the calls, and I let that get the best of me today."
As Willis' struggles continued on the mound, Tigers manager Jim Leyland stood in the dugout feeling helpless, hoping to see strikes. But as his starter started spiraling -- a four-pitch and two-five pitch walks to let two runs score -- Leyland walked out and took the ball from Willis, who walked back to the dugout punching his glove and talking to himself.
When Leyland walked back to the dugout a few seconds later, he was talking, too. Only his words were directed at home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson, and concerned balls and strikes. Nelson quickly ejected Leyland, who said after the game that his actions were "out of line."
"It appeared that I was frustrated, and maybe I was frustrated for Dontrelle," Leyland said. "You want it so bad for a guy, and everyone else wants it for him and I overreacted."
Willis finished the game with no hits, five earned runs and five walks allowed. The last pitcher to throw at least two innings and allow five runs without a hit was Sandy Koufax on June 3, 1958. Given his outing, Willis appreciated his manager's willingness to fight for him.
"He continues to believe in me, and he told me that," Willis said. "... I kind of like it, seeing that fire."
After the teams batted out nine runs in the second and third innings, Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield and the two bullpens kept the scoring at bay through the rest of the afternoon. Wakefield (7-3) finished with 6 2/3 innings pitched, three earned runs, three strikeouts and no walks. Tigers pitchers combined for nine walks, the most the staff has issued this season, as the team was swept at Comerica Park for the first time this year.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera left the game after the top of the second inning with a pulled left hamstring. Cabrera said he suffered the injury when he hit a single to left field, but he was able to stay in the game and score the team's first run before being taken out. He is listed as day-to-day, and Cabrera hopes to play in Friday's game against the Angels.
"Right now I feel better," Cabrera said after the game. "We'll see how I feel tomorrow. Hopefully I can play tomorrow."
Reliever Zach Miner also left the game with a cramp in his right calf. He said the injury was minor and that he doesn't expect to miss any time.
Thursday's game against the Red Sox (32-22) marked the first time in team history that the Tigers (28-24) were involved in a situation involving instant replay. It happened when Jeff Larish hit a ball right at the right-field foul pole in the sixth inning. First-base umpire Mark Carlson ruled the ball foul. Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon came out to argue the call, and the umpires retreated to the umpires' room to look at the replay.
When they came back out, crew chief Tim Tschida signaled that the ball had been foul. Raburn grounded into a double play on the ensuing pitch. Leyland, who watched the replay from his office after being ejected, said the correct call was made.
The offense continued its struggles, managing no runs on seven hits throughout the last seven innings. But after the game, Willis blamed himself -- and his lack of composure on the mound -- as the reason for his team's third straight loss.
"I just got frustrated," Willis said. "That was the first time I ever had a call that didn't go my way, and I let it get to me. I can't do that."
Kyle Austin is an associate reporter to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.