Pittsburgh — Deservedly so, they left home feeling good about themselves.
The Tigers had just swept the Colorado Rockies in a three-game series at Comerica Park and led the American League Central by five games.
Life was good at the top.
Then along came a trip the Tigers knew would be difficult — but not this difficult.
Losing 4-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night, the Tigers came home in second place.
They went 2-7 on their stops in New York, Toronto and Pittsburgh while Kansas City surged ahead of them. The Royals still lead the Central by a half-game after losing to the A’s Tuesday night.
“It was a crappy trip,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s how I assess it.”
No ifs, ands or buts.
And no excuses.
“But we’ll be fine,” Torii Hunter insisted after the Tigers’ fourth straight loss. “All these ups and downs, these trials and tribulations we’re having, I promise you, they are going to make us stronger.
“Sometime it takes getting slapped in the face.”
There is time to recover, of course. The Tigers have 45 games remaining, but here’s the problem: They’ve shown they can play sub.-500 ball for longer than that.
Since May 18 when they were 27-12 and looking like the next SuperTeam, they’ve gone 36-42.
So it’s both the short and long funk the Tigers must break out of. They’ve been streaky in both directions, but that’s just it — they have to change direction.
They were shut out in one of their losses on this trip, scored one run in two of them and two runs in two others.
That won’t cut it. Not with injuries suddenly causing an upheaval in the starting rotation.
“We’re not pointing fingers at any particular people here,” Ausmus said. “We didn’t hit as a whole on this trip. It’s the entire team’s fault.”
Starting when Rick Porcello normally would have — if Porcello hadn’t been needed in relief during Sunday’s 19-inning game in Toronto — Tigers left-hander Robbie Ray worked an efficient first inning, needing only 12 pitches to retire the side in order.
But en route to taking the loss, Ray (1-2) ran into trouble in the second, the same inning in which center fielder Ezequiel Carrera ran to nowhere.
A double-out-double sequence tied the score for the Pirates, but it was the third double of the inning, Travis Snider’s, that Carrera seemed to have an angle on in left-center, yet inexplicably ran past.
“It should have been caught,” Ausmus said.
To put it mildly, it was not one of Carrera’s better plays.
And on this same trip, we saw what one of his better plays looks like — that stupendous catch in New York last week to rob Jacoby Ellsbury of a possible inside-the-park grand slam.
When asked if there was a communication problem this time between Carrera in center and Rajai Davis in left, Ausmus replied, “Yes, that’s what it was.”
Anyway, the Tigers trailed 2-1 after the second, then 3-1 after the third.
They narrowed the gap to a run in the fourth on Alex Avila’s ninth home run of the season, the eighth he’s hit on the road.
They also scored in the first on Carrera’s one-out double followed by Ian Kinsler’s single to center.
However, the Tigers failed to tack on more runs in the first when a first-and-third chance with one out fizzled.
“We have to make our own opportunities,” Ausmus said, “but we also have to take advantage of those opportunities — and we’re not doing it.”
With an effective new slider, Ray pitched into the sixth, when he was relieved by Al Alburquerque in a double-switch that included the Tigers replacing Eugenio Suarez at short with Andrew Romine.
Alburquerque quickly gave up a pinch-hit, run-scoring double to Ike Davis that restored the Pirates lead to two.
Ray seemed to pitch better than the numbers indicated, but his line was only so-so. In five innings (plus one batter in the sixth), he was charged with four runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked two.
“Overall, I threw the ball pretty well,” he said.
Ray also had his first career major league hit, a two-out single in the fourth after he reached first on an error in the second.
When Ray reached first, it looked like coach Omar Vizquel offered him the ball, but instead Vizquel — according to Ray — was saying, “Your first hit. Here, touch it.”
It was the fourth hit of the year for Tigers pitchers (4-for-22), tying them for the American League lead.
However, they are done for the year playing in National League ballparks.
Unless, that is, they get to where they want to go in the postseason.