CLEVELAND -- As painful as three walk-off losses at Progressive Field have been for the Tigers this season, the alternative proved to be worse.
As the Tigers took their swings in the ninth inning, their 10-3 deficit to the Indians about to be the final margin, many in the crowd of 23,258 were still in attendance, cheering for the final three outs. When they weren't chanting for Ubaldo Jimenez, the Indians ace who was stellar in his home debut, they were chanting for Jason Kipnis, the rookie second baseman who tormented the Tigers for five hits and four runs.
The Ohio-Michigan rivalry was alive and well, and in case it wasn't clear, so is the American League Central race. Detroit's 13th straight loss in Cleveland, five of them this season, whittled its American League Central lead to just two games heading into Thursday night's series finale.
"This is one you just have to turn the page," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
Rick Porcello would like to do that. What was hoped to be a pitching duel between him and Jimenez turned into a runaway in a hurry, handing him not only his first loss since June 28, but some of the highest numbers of Porcello's career.
"You can't live off the changeup," Porcello said. "When your fastball's not effective, it makes for a long night, like tonight was."
The fact that Porcello had to go to the changeup as such a big pitch was a big sign of what kind of night it was.
With a bullpen depleted from Tuesday's 14-inning defeat and secondary pitches that deserted Porcello, the Tigers gave him time to try to find his stuff. But the sinker that has induced so many big ground balls for him this summer flattened into a fastball running side-to-side, and the slider that had become a big swing-and-miss pitch was almost non-existent.
Those were the ingredients to his recent success. Porcello (11-7) was unbeaten in his previous six starts, having found a successful mix to get hitters away from sitting on his sinker. But by the time Carlos Santana's RBI double chased Porcello in a four-run fourth inning, just over half of his total pitches were sinkers, and not particularly effective ones.
He threw very few sliders after struggling to locate them, and though his changeup produced some swings and misses, it also furthered the damage.
"The problem was falling behind guys, whether it was with the fastball or offspeed stuff," Porcello said. "And my sinker was more running today. It was more of a running two-seam than a sinker. It didn't have that good downward action that it's had in my previous starts. That was the problem.
"When the ball is running horizontal and not going down, it gives them a better chance to get the barrel on it, especially lefties. That's been my problem in the past when I've had tough times against lefties. It's either not keeping them off-balance or not having good downward action on my fastball."
It was difficult enough that when Porcello had to go to a payoff pitch to Kipnis with two outs in the second inning, he tried a power fastball, not a sinker. Kipnis sent it deep to right for a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead.
"He obviously had an outstanding night tonight," Porcello said. "I didn't make pitches against him. I gave him some good pitches to hit and he took advantage of it. The 3-2 pitch was a fastball middle-in, and he took advantage of that and turned on it."
Porcello still gave himself a chance to get back into the game. But once the score turned in the fourth, it turned hard.
The right-hander retired the side scoreless in the third to stop the momentum for a bit. Jimenez retired Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera to start the fourth, but an extra step from Victor Martinez earned him an infield single. It also tweaked his sprained knee a bit, though he said after the game he was all right.
Ryan Raburn, who doubled in two runs off Jimenez six weeks ago when the Cleveland starter was still with Colorado, one-upped himself by tripling off the left-center-field wall to plate Martinez. After Alex Avila walked, Wilson Betemit doubled in two to bring Detroit within a run.
Jimenez ended the threat by retiring Ramon Santiago, and a shutdown inning from Porcello would've brought the top of the order back up against Jimenez in the fifth with momentum.
Instead, Kipnis singled in Marson for another run, and a wild throw from center fielder Andy Dirks on Asdrubal Cabrera's single plated another. Porcello struck out Travis Hafner, but not until a 2-2 pitch in the dirt allowed Cabrera to score from third base.
"The fourth inning was really the turnaround inning of the game," Leyland said. "I mean, we got back in it, and then we turned right around and let them pull away again. That's not a good inning. It was a very good half-inning, but not as good as a full inning."
Porcello yielded a season-high-tying 11 hits before departing mid-frame. Once Kosuke Fukudome greeted David Pauley with an RBI double, the eight runs charged to Porcello's name equaled his career high, set last season.
"It was a little bit infectious today," Kipnis said. "Everyone was hitting, everyone was having good swings tonight. It went down the order one through nine and everyone contributed, so it was a lot of fun to hit tonight."