Boston — Oh, they made a gallant effort, all of the Tigers, beginning with a pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, who toughed out six sturdy innings on a lovely spring evening in Back Bay.
But these, remember, are the Boston Red Sox. This is Fenway Park. And the idea three runs were going to hold up Friday against a team as prone to sticking it to Detroit as the boys from Boston was a bit silly.
Whatever victory fantasies had been conjured by their Motown guests dissolved in a flash when Boston went on a three-run binge in the eighth to sock it to Detroit, 5-3.
“We kind of split the game,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team was dumped two games beneath .500 at 29-31. “The first half went to us. The second half went to them. And their second half was better than our first.”
The Tigers had been nursing an early 3-0 lead as well as Zimmermann’s second consecutive quality start and were still on top, 3-2, heading into the eighth. Some still traumatized by the Tigers and the 2013 ALCS at Fenway Park will remember the eighth is not Detroit’s favorite Fenway inning.
And it again wasn’t Friday.
Alex Wilson, the second Tigers reliever, had some initial bad luck when he threw a string of nasty pitches to leadoff batter Xander Bogaerts, the last of which Bogaerts popped into shallow right field.
J.D. Martinez couldn’t reach it and Bogaerts was on first — that is, until Wilson threw the ball on a pickoff attempt past Miguel Cabrera for an error that put Bogaerts in tidy scoring position.
He scored the tying run on Mitch Moreland’s looped single to right. And then Moreland stormed home, just ahead of Jackie Bradley Jr., who drove a 94-mph Wilson fastball into the right-field seats for a two-run homer that ended up as the difference.
“Right pitch — I just didn’t get the ball where it needed to go,” said Wilson, who normally is safe as a treasury note. “I tried to go up and in and it kind of leaked back over the plate.”
The Tigers started quaintly but then shut down.
Nicholas Castellanos slammed a homer into the center-field bleachers two batters into the game for a 1-0 Tigers lead.
With two gone in the first, three consecutive Tigers batters – Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton — all slashed singles, with Victor Martinez galloping home from second on Upton’s RBI hit to make it 2-0.
Mikie Mahtook made it 3-0 in the fourth when he tore into an 88-mph Johnson fastball and sent it soaring 420 feet beyond the deepest reaches of the Green Monster in left-center field.
It was Mahtook’s fourth home run in only 29 games this season and helped explain why a center fielder with his brand of power appealed to the Tigers during the past off-season when they got him from Tampa Bay.
But that was it for the Tigers, even if they could have and should have scored more in the fifth.
With one out, Victor Martinez dusted a slow roller down the third-base line that became — news bulletin — an infield single for baseball’s most challenged baserunner.
J.D. Martinez followed with a ripped double to left that moved Martinez to third.
Justin Upton, however, got a bit jumpy against reliever Heath Hembree and popped a fly to shallow right that left Martinez anchored at third.
“He barreled it up,” Ausmus said of Upton’s swing. “Just got under it.”
Mahtook followed with a tough grounder to short. And the fleet Mahtook appeared to have beaten Bogaerts’ throw to first.
One problem. The Tigers had exhausted their replay options on a 2-minute, 35-second bid to get Castellanos’ fourth-inning groundout overturned.
It failed. And that meant Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had no choice but to live with first-base umpire Dave Rackley’s call on Mahtook.
The Tigers got nothing but an infield single in the final three innings against Boston’s battery of fire-throwing relievers.
“We weren’t able to tack on runs later on,” said Ausmus, explaining the obvious on an evening the Tigers had 11 hits but left nine on base.
Zimmermann’s evening was, on balance, a better story. His fastball had steady zip, most often cruising at 93 mph, with his two-seamer responsible for a couple of big double plays that shut down Red Sox ruckuses in the fourth and fifth.
He allowed six hits in his six innings, which saw him fling 94 pitches. He walked three and struck out three.
Zimmermann also was fortunate to have been pitching past the first — on two legs, anyway.
In that Red Sox first, a 111-mph liner from Bogaerts’ bat slammed into the back of his left thigh, a couple of inches above his knee.
“Probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit,” said Zimmermann, who took a couple of practice throws that satisfied the training staff. “That’s what happens when you leave it (pitch) in the middle of the plate.”
Ausmus talked about Bogaerts’ laser afterward and shook his head.
“It’s tough to shake him off the mound,” he said of his starter. “Unless that leg was severed, he wasn’t coming out.”
The Tigers will rub a bit of ointment on their collective Friday night bruises and hope for better times Saturday evening as Justin Verlander starts six days after he left his last outing with a strained groin.
And while Verlander typically is very good against the Red Sox, his counterpart Saturday is one Chris Sale.
The Tigers have some chores ahead.