DETROIT -- Prince Fielder hit the ball hard, a line drive in the eighth inning Monday with a runner on base and two outs. Except that the Tigers' first baseman hit it right at Athletics shortstop Jed Lowrie, who snagged it to end the inning.
For a long moment, after he completed his swing and before he walked slowly away from the plate, Fielder froze as if posing for a photo. It was an image that perfectly captured one of the biggest reasons the Tigers are on the brink of elimination after losing to the Athletics, 6-3, in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Comerica Park.
The team that finished second in the big leagues in runs scored crossed the plate three times in the first inning of Game 1 at Oakland's O.co Coliseum. The Tigers scored three in the fourth on Monday. In 25 of the other 27 innings they've batted, they haven't managed a single run, never mind a crooked number.
They're averaging two runs per game. They're batting .219 as a team, with four-extra base hits and no homers.
"We know we need to score runs. We know we have to do better than that. But first we have to get on base. That's a big key to the game," said third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who has been limited to three singles and one run batted in to this point.
For the first three innings Monday against Athletics starter Jarrod Parker, it was more of the same, more of the too-familiar head-shaking frustration, more zeros on the scoreboard. The streak of shutout innings reached 20. While that's far from the record for postseason futility -- 33 innings by the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series -- it was only the third time it's happened since 2006. The Yankees went 20 innings without scoring in the playoffs last year ... and so did the Tigers.
"Pressure? This is the third year in a row we're in the playoffs and it's always a question. This is what we live for, so it's not even in our minds," said catcher Alex Avila. "You put your best at-bat forward. That's the bottom line. If you get out, you're out. If you get a hit, great, and you try to string together quality at-bats. We've all been through this before. I think we've been putting good swings on them the whole time. All three games, we've had opportunities, so it's just a matter of taking advantage of those and getting those timely hits."
Finally, in the fourth inning, down by three, Detroit's hitters hammered a rally together. A base hit by Torii Hunter against Parker to start. Then, with one out, three straight hits -- singles by Fielder and Jhonny Peralta sandwiched around a Victor Martinez double -- tied the score. The sellout crowd of 43,973, which had been watching glumly, roared its approval.
The drought was over. The Tigers thought they had finally broken out of their collective postseason slump.
"When we scored those runs, I definitely thought so," Martinez said. "When you tie the game like that, there's always hope. That was a good sign to wake the team up. But you know what? You have to give them credit. They went out and kept swinging the bat, and we didn't, and we ended up taking the loss."
Added Fielder: "Any time you're down three and you can jump up and get three runs quick in an inning, it's always a good feeling. But it just wasn't enough."
But when the Athletics answered with three runs of their own in the top of the fifth, it clearly deflated the fans. And, for whatever reason, the Tigers managed just two more singles the rest of the way while not getting a runner past first.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland pointed to a combination of good pitching and less-than-stellar at-bats.
"That's normally the way it works out," he said. "Somebody is making good pitches and we're not swinging quite as good as we're capable."
Hunter said both teams suffered the effects of being off between the end of the regular season a week ago Sunday and the start of the ALDS last Friday. He also suggested that the Tigers' hitters might be trying a little too hard.
"Both sides struggled the first two games offensively, because of the four days. I can tell you the truth about that," Hunter said. "But in this game, I felt a little better. A lot of guys felt better. But they came through with the big home runs and that's what killed us.
"Nobody wants to strike out. Nobody wants to give up a home run. It just happens in baseball. It stinks, but it does. That's a testament to the pitching they have over there. We just haven't been hitting the ball. It's frustrating. It's the postseason and we want to go out there and win. I think we're trying to do a little too much. And, also, they're playing well. But we'll come back ready to go. Every at-bat, every pitch, we're out there battling and focusing. We just got beat. That's the way the game goes sometimes."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.