Toronto — Numbness might be the next hazard, at least in the minds of those who wonder how a big-league baseball team can lose 11 consecutive games without, at some point, shutting down the misery by ignoring it.
That’s not the Tigers clubhouse.
But it was unmistakably different Saturday, after Justin Smoak drilled Joe Jimenez’s second pitch of the Blue Jays ninth inning 407 feet into the second deck at Rogers Centre, wiping out what had been a 3-0 Tigers lead and turning Saturday’s duel into a 4-3 victory for Toronto.
There were more heads down in the Tigers clubhouse afterward. More players locked in silence and thought, if not the early throes of agony, as the longest losing streak since their nightmare of a 2003 season is now part of Detroit baseball history.
Anothor defeat Sunday against the Jays and the Tigers will have matched their longest skid since they dropped 12 in a row in 1996.
“They all stink, every loss is frustrating,” said John Hicks, whose second-inning homer into the bullpen in left had handed the Tigers a 1-0 lead, and who stepped aside from a feeling Saturday’s defeat might have been particularly cruel. “A loss is a loss.
“It just seems like we get a lead early and that’s when you can’t take your foot off the gas. You get three runs early, and you’ve got to try and get 10 runs.”
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was staying calm and as consistent in his postgame personality as he had been two weeks ago when the Tigers were, ironically, in the thick of a five-game winning streak.
“Another great ballgame, another one-run game,” Gardenhire said. “Unfortunately, it was another loss.”
Gardenhire and the Tigers tried everything Saturday, even after Hicks’ homer and Nick Castellanos’ follow-up, two-run blast to left in the third, had put the Tigers on top, 3-0, just as Matthew Boyd was in the groove of a four-inning no-hitter.
Gardenheimer had Jeimer Candelario running in the first after Candelario walked. He ordered a sacrifice bunt in the third from JaCoby Jones, knowing Jones, with his speed, is likewise not a bad bet to bunt for a base hit.
He had Grayson Greiner sprinting in the seventh on an attempted hit-and-run with Jose Iglesias, who is good at poking the ball to right, at bat. The pitch wasn’t helpful and Greiner was mowed down at second.
Nothing, it seemed, worked for a team that can’t seem to get its pitching and hitting to cohabitate.
The Tigers, again , were way too light with the bats: seven hits a game after they had gotten only six hits in losing, 3-2, Friday.
They have scored seven runs in their past four games, which is a good way to keep a historic streak rolling.
“We’re all trying hard,” Gardenhire said, acknowledging he was dipping into the small-ball bin plenty Saturday, hoping aggression might be the answer for a team that these days simply has too few hitters rocking.
“The guys were trying to make things happen. It’s what we’ve been doing since spring, and you can’t stop.
“The only way we’re going to get out of this thing is to press the issues.”
The way Boyd began, it looked as if a 3-0 lead might be plenty.
He was cruising: nine pitches in the first inning, six in the second, 27 through three, 46 after four, and he still hadn’t allowed a hit.
But as happened Friday when Francisco Liriano had a fatal, three-run inning, Boyd slipped in the fifth. A leadoff ground-rule double from Kevin Pillar, a one-out single, and a ground-out RBI made it a 3-1 game.
It was 3-3 after Randal Grichuk dug into a Boyd slider and lofted it into the bullpen in left.
“I wanted the ball down, and it was down, but it got the plate,” said Boyd, who had his personal four-pitch portfolio working in customary fashion following a couple of jagged starts. “They hit mistakes, and that’s on me.”
The Tigers weren’t as efficient Saturday. They had a runner at second in the sixth with one out, and runners at second and third with two out for Hicks, who struck out on a steady stream of down-and-away sliders.
In the eighth, another invitation: Leonys Martin led off with a single and scampered to second on Castellanos’ swinging bunt to third base. Candelario followed with a pop fly to center before Victor Martinez, swinging on a 3-and-0 pitch, hit a hot comebacker to the mound that became a put-out at first. Niko Goodrum then lined out to right on a cutter that got a bit in on his bat.
“It’s a tough game to start off with,” said Goodrum, who got a start at second base, and who was trying to put 11 consecutive defeats into sensible perspective. “But any team will go through their stretches. When things are going like this, you just don’t seem to get the bloop hit or the break.”
The Tigers got a break in Toronto’s half of the eighth, courtesy of Martin and his arm.
With one gone and runners at first and second, Yangervis Solarte lined a single to center that sent Devon Travis home-bound with what looked like the lead run.
Martin had other thoughts. He wheeled a one-strike throw to Grayson Greiner at the plate that caught Travis and sent the game to the ninth, tied 3-3.
Solarte’s single came against Jimenez, who had arrived with a 2-and-0 count on Solarte, after Alex Wilson left with what was described as “left-calf tightness.”
Jimenez was still at work to begin the ninth. Two pitches later, everyone was heading home — the Jays exhilarated, the Tigers wondering when, for all their upbeat resolve, this trauma might end.