ARLINGTON -- Miguel Cabrera watched his fly ball carry through the Texas night and stared as it died at the warning track in center field. He knew he got too much air under the ball, but with a runner on and two out in the 11th inning, he was hoping for some extra-innings magic.
He had no such question when Nelson Cruz turned on a Ryan Perry slider in the bottom of the inning. Nobody did. In a game with enough people stranded to make a travel novel -- 19 runners between both clubs -- the Tigers and Rangers provided plenty of suspense until the end. Cruz's walk-off grand slam in the 11th was a no-doubter.
"Today, the ball was not carrying. But for Cruz, the ball was carrying," Cabrera lamented after Detroit's 7-3 loss in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
As a result, there is little question about what the Tigers have to do when the ALCS reconvenes at Comerica Park on Tuesday night. Win Game 3, and they put a different script on this series with Justin Verlander looming for Game 5. Lose, and they're at risk of being swept out of the series.
It isn't a must-win, but it's not far off. At this point, it's more like a must-score situation. So far, that's proving excruciatingly difficult, from Cabrera throughout the heart of the Tigers' lineup, especially against the Texas bullpen.
The Tigers got starter Max Scherzer on a roll through the middle innings, and they got closer Jose Valverde out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the ninth. They didn't get out of a similar jam with Perry. Detroit never got the additional runs it needed to end the game before that.
The Tigers could only go out for out with the Rangers' bullpen for so long.
"We're not hitting," Cabrera said. "I think we have to do a better job with men in scoring position. I think we have to go out there and find a way to do our jobs. Hopefully, we can start tomorrow.
"We have to go out there and be positive. We have to go out there and believe we can do it. And we've got to go out there and believe we can win."
While Ryan Raburn's three-run homer slugged the Tigers to their first lead of the series, it was also their only run-scoring hit. They left five runners on base through the first two innings for the second consecutive game, this time struggling to get a big hit while Rangers left-hander Derek Holland was effectively wild.
After Austin Jackson's leadoff walk and a Ramon Santiago single, Holland didn't allow a ball out of the infield from the middle of the Tigers' order, forcing a popout from a hobbled Delmon Young and groundouts by Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
"The first inning in both games so far, in my opinion, has really come back to haunt us a little bit," manager Jim Leyland said. "We didn't score when we had a great opportunity to both games [this series]. They did score."
When Holland walked the bases loaded with back-to-back two-out free passes, he got a play up the middle by second baseman Ian Kinsler to stop what initially looked like a potential Santiago single through the middle.
Just six times in postseason history has a team drawn four walks in the first two innings without scoring a run. Detroit has done it twice in the last eight days.
The Tigers were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position this series, and in 2-for-29 stretch since Game 3 of the Division Series, when Raburn homered. Jhonny Peralta's ensuing double gave them a chance to add on until Holland and Scott Feldman got back-to-back groundouts by Alex Avila and Brandon Inge.
Feldman's 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball and Alexi Ogando's continued mastery of the Tigers stopped it there until the ninth.
"I think he just ate up enough innings where they can use all their situational guys for one batter or one inning and still come out tomorrow and have Ogando available for an inning or two," Young said. "They've still got [Neftali] Feliz. They've still got [Mike] Adams and [Koji] Uehara."
The Tigers saw all but Uehara on Monday, yet they still had a golden chance in the ninth. But their struggles were enough that folks questioned whether Santiago should have been at third base on Don Kelly's two-out double with Cabrera and Martinez coming up. Detroit would've gladly let those two hit in the regular season, the league's two top batters with runners in scoring position. Had the ball taken a different carom in foul territory, third-base coach Gene Lamont probably would have sent Santiago.
"We were hoping [the ball] would kick back to him, but it didn't," Leyland said. "It just came back to him, and that's the luck of the draw."
Cabrera, predictably, was intentionally walked. Martinez hit a flare to shallow center field, which Elvis Andrus nearly dropped before finally pinning it against his chest.
Scherzer made the lead last as long as he could, retiring 12 straight Rangers to reinforce his status as the most effective Tigers hurler this postseason. He retired the heart of the Rangers' lineup in order with two on in the sixth, including a strikeout of Adrian Beltre to deny him a sacrifice fly opportunity. Leyland let Scherzer go out for the seventh with the idea that he'd pull him if Cruz reached base.
Cruz rounded the bases after hitting a 377-foot drive on a Scherzer fastball.
Add scoreless innings from Ogando, Feliz and Adams, and Rangers relievers have held the Tigers scoreless for 12 2/3 innings this series. Once Mike Napoli's liner fell between Jackson and Andy Dirks for a single to right-center in the 11th, Perry had Cruz back up with the bases loaded.
"He's a great hitter," Perry said. "You have to make better pitches to him. A 1-2 pitch, slider came inside, and he made the best of it."
Technically, it's the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history, though Robin Ventura hit one out for the Mets in 1999 before being tackled while rounding first base and never completing the trip. Cruz's blast dropped the Tigers' run differential to minus-16 for the postseason, while scoring 22 total. They can pull out close wins, but to get those against Texas, they still need runs.
"We just have to relax," Santiago said. "We're at home now. I know everybody's trying to do the best they can. We just have to relax and execute."