The Tigers were six outs from another ALCS victory, behind another commanding pitching performance and more runs scored than the lineup normally puts on the board.
A funny thing happened on the way to the victory: The Tigers bullpen' imploded, allowing runner after runner in the eighth, a game-tying grand slam to 'Big Papi' David Ortiz and then the walk-off run an inning later.
Score: 6-5 Red Sox.
Series: 1-1 tie, with the Tigers winning one on the road.
So why does it feel like the team is coming home to Detroit down 0-2? Only because of the way Sunday's game happened. If you reversed the order of the first two games, fans would be a lot happier right now.
The Tigers Sunday suffered defeat-by-committee, ruining a wonderful start by Max Scherzer and blowing a 5-1 lead. Scherzer took a no hitter into the sixth inning, left after seven innings and 13 strikeouts, having allowed just two hits and a run. His lineup scored some runs, with a sixth inning that featured home runs by Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila surrounding doubles by Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.
Jose Veras got the first out of the eighth but then gave up a double. Drew Smyly walked the next batter, a left-hander. Al Alburquerque struck the first he saw, then allowed a single to load the bases. Jim Leyland went back to his bullpen for a fourth reliever in the inning, and this one couldn't get the job done either.
Joaquin Benoit grooved one and Ortiz hit it into the right-field stands, beyond a tumbling Torii Hunter who had a chance at a dramatic catch with a little better route but instead found himself upside down in the Red Sox bullpen while seemingly all of Fenway Park celebrated.
After a listless top of the ninth, the Tigers took the field only to be forced to walk off it within two batters. Fielder couldn't field an unnecessary throw by shortstop Jose Iglesias on a Jonny Gomes infield single, allowing the game-winning run to second. He couldn't hold on to a pop fly a row into the first base stands either. Then a ball got by Avila on a wild pitch, and Boston walked off after a single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Unfortunately for the fans, this game hurts. The home team could have come home up two games to none with an extra chance to wrap things up in Detroit. Instead, the next 40 hours will be spent discussing what could have been.
But here's the thing: painful losses happen, and veteran ballplayers respond to them with a shrug all the time. We might all sleep like babies tonight, but the Tigers players themselves will probably sleep a bit better.
Detroit gained a split in Boston. That's all the Tigers needed to do. They missed an opportunity, and if the Red Sox come back to win the series the eighth inning will undoubtedly be called the turning point.
Momentum makes for a nice narrative, but again and again has been shown to be only as good as the next game's pitcher. With Justin Verlander on the mound Tuesday, the Tigers have a good opportunity to put this entire episode behind them.