Gage: Tigers’ weird loss to A’s a punch in the gut

The Tigers had a 3-0 lead against the Oakland A's through the sixth inning.

Rick Osentoski

DETROIT — How quickly a vibe turns.

And how just as quickly a slap becomes a punch.

It seemed to be such an agreeable evening at Comerica Park. The Tigers were back home after getting swept in four straight in Anaheim.

What’s more, they had a 3-0 lead against the Oakland A’s through the sixth inning — after manager Brad Ausmus had been able to speak optimistically before the game about getting back several of his injured players.

It wasn’t a good-better-best scenario, but considering how this team has struggled, it seemed like one.

With Oakland’s five-run seventh, however — featuring a grand slam by Ben Zobrist — the quiet little win this game looked like it might become crumbled into a weird little 5-3 loss.

But little losses add up.

And they are quickly adding up for the Tigers.

"Anaheim was a slap in the face," said Ausmus. "This was a punch to the gut."

So, for the second time with Ausmus as their manager, the Tigers have lost five in a row. Last year, with their run production faltering, they lost five at this same time of year — beginning on May 31.

This time, runs have become scarce again. In their last eight games, the Tigers have scored more than three just once — and managed to lose that game 8-6.

No wonder it’s become a Tale of Two Brad’s — one who is upbeat before a game, but a bit petulant after.

Losing streaks do that to managers.

"I’m not going to break down (the seventh inning) for you pitch by pitch," Ausmus said about the pivotal seventh. "You watched it."

With that, the vibe that had shimmered so positively before the game faded entirely.

The fact it existed at all had been a mild surprise, though — although it probably should not have been, considering that teams returning from rough trips are often happy just to be home.

Perhaps that was the case with the Tigers as they came back from their off day in a good mood after getting soundly swept in Anaheim.

So much had gone wrong it was thought that scowls would still outnumber smiles in the clubhouse — especially as reporters approached with questions.

The Tigers were upbeat, though. So was their manager.

No, they have not been playing well. And with a 5-11 record in their last 16 games, they still aren’t.

Some of the individual stats on the trip were abysmal. Five regulars hit .200 or less in the seven games. Three of the five went hitless again on Tuesday night.

Jose Iglesias stood out to such an extent, with his .385 batting average (5-for-13) on the trip, it became inescapably prudent to move him up in the batting order.

So that’s what the Tigers did: Iglesias hit second against the A’s, with Ian Kinsler dropping down to fifth. They both were hitless..

But at least the Tigers went into the game trying something different — and Ausmus liked the looks of the new batting order.

Being able to speak with hope about getting his team healthy again was another reason he sounded upbeat.

You know by now, of course, that Ausmus isn’t excitable. He doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve.

But about one player after another, he seemed encouraged.

Of Justin Verlander, for instance — who will get another rehab start — Ausmus said, "I’d be surprised if this wasn’t his last one.

"If everything goes well on Saturday, it’s reasonable to say he’ll probably be starting for the Tigers next time he pitches."

Of his team, he still feels good: "To me, it’s going to win over the course of 162 games. I’m not concerned.

"We’ve gone through a stretch in which we’re not scoring runs, but by all indicators we should score runs.

"Somebody’s going to have to pay down the line — meaning pitchers."

He also sounded hopeful about Alex Avila and Victor Martinez, saying that Avila has begun baseball activities in his recovery from his knee injury; and that Martinez, if Ausmus were "venturing a logical guess" would resume workouts with the team next week.

Plus there’s the promise of Bruce Rondon joining the bullpen soon.

A three-run lead made it all seem even sunnier. Yes sir, the slap that stung the Tigers in Anaheim would soon be history.

But a punch would replace it.