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TEX@DET: Smyly shines with six strong innings

DETROIT -- No, it wasn't fair -- the go-ahead squeeze bunt, as replays showed. The run support the Tigers put up for Drew Smyly in his quest for his first Major League win probably wasn't fair, either.

The second part, manager Jim Leyland suggested, had at least as much to do with Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Rangers in 11 innings as the first.

Had the call gone their way, and Alberto Gonzalez's bunt been called foul, they still would've faced a bases-loaded, no-out jam for Thad Weber in his big league debut. And the scoreboard still would've shown them with two runs for the afternoon.

They've pulled out crazier wins, of course. But they could've lost Sunday, crazy or sane.

"We've just got to get the bats going," Leyland said afterward.

That might have been the craziest part of the series against a Rangers team that has put up some of the most formidable numbers in the league through two-plus weeks of the season. As mighty as that Texas lineup looked at times, and Josh Hamilton's second home run in as many days was impressive, Detroit's pitching opened a chance at a series split, starting with their rookie left-hander.

Drew Smyly had shut down the Royals' talented young offense earlier in the week, but he hadn't faced a veteran lineup with the caliber of what the Rangers brought to Comerica Park. Yet take away Hamilton's first-inning solo homer on a pitch Smyly thought he had put out of the hitting zone, and the 22-year-old southpaw held them down for six innings.

Smyly's seven strikeouts marked the most from a Tigers rookie left-hander since Andrew Miller did the same in 2007. His ERA through three starts fell to 1.13, the lowest of Detroit's five starters and second-lowest among all American League starters. The only one with a lower ERA through Sunday, Philip Humber, just pitched a perfect game Saturday.

Small sample size or not, he's making an impression with the innings he's getting. He's the first Tigers pitcher since at least 1918 to hold his opponents to one run or fewer in each of his first three Major League starts.

"He's got really good command on all his pitches right now," catcher Alex Avila said, "and he's just throwing a lot of strikes, mixing it up well. He threw fantastic. He's really improved a lot from Spring Training and from the first start. He was impressive then, and he seems like he's getting better every start."

Yet he's still looking for his first Major League win. He's getting historically good, but his lack of results could drive someone else hysterical.

"It'll come," Smyly said. "That's just how baseball goes. We'll start hitting a lot more. Our lineup is just as good as any lineup in the league. It's just a matter of time."

Colby Lewis made sure the time wasn't Sunday. He stranded Austin Jackson by retiring the heart of Detroit's order following his leadoff double in the opening inning. He nearly did the same in the third after Ramon Santiago's leadoff triple before a wild pitch drove him home.

Even after Brennan Boesch's sixth-inning solo homer put Detroit on top, Lewis kept them from breaking it open under tight circumstances. By executing a slider on a 2-0 pitch to Avila, Lewis induced a flyout to strand potential add-on runs at first and second in the sixth inning.

Lewis and three Rangers relievers retired 15 straight Tigers from there before Miguel Cabrera singled with two outs in the 11th. By then, the bunt in question from Gonzalez had put Texas in front.

Much like last October's ALCS, the Rangers' pitching essentially outlasted their Tigers counterparts in the bullpen, holding Detroit to 12 runs for the four-game series. By contrast, Texas scored 10 runs in each of the first two games.

It was a difficult situation for Weber to make his debut, pitching the 11th inning of a tie game against a balanced Texas lineup. Once a Nelson Cruz walk and back-to-back singles loaded the bases with nobody out, it was nearly an impossible situation to escape.

He almost did. Some would argue he should have, had the Tigers gotten the foul call on Gonzalez's squeeze bunt, though it's impossible to know whether he would've retired him from there.

"It really was just kind of a weird play," Weber said. "Brandon [Inge] was coming in yelling something, and Alex [Avila] was coming in yelling something, and it was just kind of all over the place. I picked it up, and obviously Miguel [Cabrera] was at the plate as well."

Replays showed the ball hitting Gonzalez's right leg before it bounced into fair territory. Home-plate umpire Tim Welke conferred with the rest of the crew, but couldn't come up with a definitive view to reverse the initial ruling.

"It was a little bit of a tough break for us," Leyland said, "but we didn't swing the bats good enough. We just didn't hit very much today."

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