As unlikely as a Jordan Zimmermann-Jake Faria pitching duel seemed going into Monday evening, the chance of a Tigers rally didn't look much better as Brad Miller's ninth-inning line drive bounced off the bullpen dugout and into the left-field seats for the second home run of the inning off closer Shane Greene, two batters after C.J. Cron plated the game's first tally with a two-run homer to right.
The Rays, who had an eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday by a ninth-inning rally in Boston, seemed hot again with a three-run lead. The Tigers, with Miguel Cabrera unavailable after his left biceps spasm Sunday and Leonys Martin out of the lineup with a hamstring strain, had only the advantage of not facing Rays closer Alex Colome, who threw 24 pitches Sunday.
Eight batters and two relievers later, the Tigers had the tying run 90 feet away, having strung together a rally on a walk, two hit-by-pitches and two ground-ball singles. Rays catcher Jesus Sucre had to throw his body at a Jose Alvarado breaking ball in the dirt to keep Nicholas Castellanos from breaking home with the game-tying run. Dixon Machado hit the next pitch on the ground to short, ending the Tigers' final threat and sending Detroit to its fifth loss in six games and five games under .500 (11-16) for the second time this season.
For a team that had been averaging 9.2 runs per game in Zimmermann's starts, the highest run support for any Major League starter this season, it was a twist of fate. While Zimmermann followed a game plan of more breaking balls and completed seven scoreless innings for his best outing since Aug. 2 at Yankee Stadium, Faria (2-1) matched him and then some with eight innings on three hits, stranding a pair of runners from one-out doubles in the third and fourth innings.
"A good start for me personally," said Zimmermann, who hadn't seen the end of the sixth inning in a start since Opening Day. "I wish we could've won."
The Tigers have stressed to Zimmermann the importance of changing speeds and mixing pitches, relying less on his fastball and trying to re-establish his curveball as a viable secondary offering again. He not only threw 15 curves, he used them to start off several at-bats. He also threw 20 sliders, inducing three swing-and-misses and four called strikes off of them, including two of his five strikeouts.
Daniel Stumpf shut down the bottom of the Rays' order in the eighth before closer Shane Greene was tasked with the top of the lineup in the ninth. From the outset, though, Greene battled his command, walking Denard Span for a leadoff baserunner before forcing himself to challenge Cron on a 2-0 fastball. The result was Cron's seventh home run of the season.
Not since 2015, when Greene (1-2) was still a starting pitcher, had he allowed multiple home runs in a game. The Tigers nearly matched the score without getting a base hit in the air, before falling to 3-6 in one-run games.
"I can't say enough about these guys," Greene said. "We fight to the end every game."
SOUND SMART The Tigers have scored 48 runs during Zimmermann's six starts this season. They've scored 76 runs in games started by anyone else, an average of 3.6 per game.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Jose Iglesias had a triple turned into a double on fan interference, but he stole away a base hit entirely from Sucre with a diving catch in the hole to open the third inning. The line drive had just a 61.2 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™, but was placed just about out of reach.
HE SAID IT "Whatever I was doing, it didn't work." -- Greene, on the Cron home run
UP NEXT Matthew Boyd (0-2, 2.74), who struggled through his last start while dealing with a flu bug, is at full health to take the mound Tuesday night for the middle game of this three-game series against the Rays, opposing AL All-Star Chris Archer. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. ET under summer-like weather at Comerica Park.