DETROIT -- The Tigers had Max Scherzer pitching effectively on Sunday, if not overpowering. They had another clutch run-scoring hit from Miguel Cabrera. And with the White Sox battling Jered Weaver later in the day, they had a chance to stake their claim to the American League Central lead.
Then came the sixth inning and a momentum swing bigger than any physical swing even Cabrera could produce.
"Just a couple of bloops and all hell broke loose," manager Jim Leyland described the five-run Minnesota rally that turned a low-scoring duel into a Twins takeover and a 10-4 Tigers loss in the opener of a day-night twin bill at Comerica Park.
They'll take the consolation out of a healthy Scherzer, whom they expect will be back at his normal velocity when he faces the Twins again on Friday at Target Field. They won't take over the division, at least not yet.
But the White Sox 4-1 loss to the Angels gives the Tigers a chance to gain a share of first place with a win in Sunday's nightcap.
A healthy Scherzer might eventually help them get there. He almost got them far enough on Sunday before a combination of well-placed hits and defensive miscues turned a rally into a runaway.
"It was good that I was able to bounce back and be able to get healthy and at least be out there for the team," Scherzer said. "I thought I was able to pitch effectively today. Just some things happened there in the sixth that I need to be better at, not falling behind in counts and stuff. It's just one of those things that happened today."
It happened on the wrong day. Scherzer's upper-90s fastball, the pitch he has been able to locate on the corner time and again during his run of a 10-1 record over his previous 15 outings, wasn't part of his arsenal in his first start since shoulder fatigue forced him out of his last outing on Tuesday night.
His fastball sat anywhere from 90-93 mph on the Comerica Park radar gun, instead of his usual 95-97, and topped out at 94 instead of 99. He got outs with it, but mixed it with more sliders, changeups and an occasional curve.
"My arm felt good. I didn't feel any fatigue or anything like that," Scherzer said. "I wasn't in my normal routine this past week of throwing how I throw, and really how I run and lift too, so I think that's why I didn't quite have the zip on my fastball today."
As far as the Tigers were concerned, they didn't want him to look for it quite yet.
"I didn't really want him to try to get the extra today," Leyland said. "I don't want to get him hurt. He's pretty important for us in the future and obviously the rest of this season."
Said Scherzer: "Given that, I realized I didn't have the zip and I was able to pitch today, I thought. [Catcher Gerald Laird] did a good job of mixing pitches up and I was able to pitch with a slider, curveball and a change. I thought I was able to mix that pretty well."
He struck out just four Twins over five-plus innings, a low strikeout total by his league-leading standards, but two of them accounted for his last two outs, fanning Pedro Florimon on a 92-mph heater before spotting a full-count slider on Denard Span to strand a runner at second.
Scherzer had retired 14 out of 16 hitters after back-to-back singles in the first, including 10 consecutive batters from the first into the fourth. It was a 2-0 game at that point on Cabrera's 132nd RBI and a Delmon Young single, yet the Tigers barely seemed threatened.
Three batters into the sixth, however, Scherzer was out, and Detroit's bullpen was struggling to halt a Minnesota rally.
The first two hits arguably could've been outs, though they wouldn't have been ordinary plays. Ben Revere's leadoff fly ball caught in a swirling wind blowing out to left and carried Andy Dirks all the way to the fence, where he eventually caught up with it.
"At first I thought I was going to be able to go back and stop and catch it," Dirks said, "then I realized I wasn't going to be able to. It hit off my glove then I ran into the wall and he got the triple."
Joe Mauer's ensuing ground ball to the right side forced a barehand grab from Omar Infante, whose attempt at a submarine throw bounced in the dirt as Mauer hit the bag and Revere scored.
Josh Willingham's double down the left-field line chased Scherzer (16-7) to set up left-hander Phil Coke against Justin Morneau, who entered the day batting .232 against lefties compared to .300 against righties. Coke got the fly ball he wanted, but off the end of Morneau's bat and into left field as Dirks struggled to read it.
"Cokey made a good pitch on Morneau," Leyland said. "He just blooped the ball."
The ball fell in front of Dirks to tie the game. Coke's four-pitch walk to Ryan Doumit loaded the bases with none out for Trevor Plouffe, who greeted Brayan Villarreal with a go-ahead ground-ball single.
That's when the game truly turned. Villarreal got the strikeout he had been seeking to slow the Twins, but his pitch in the dirt bounced away from Laird to send Morneau breaking from third. Laird fired to Villarreal in plenty of time, but Villarreal failed to tag Morneau as he slid in, believing he had a forceout at the plate.
"He got a little confused when [batter Eduardo Escobar] took off for first," Leyland said.
Once Florimon beat out a potential double play to score Doumit, the Twins had an ample lead for starter Scott Diamond (12-8), who reprised the Tigers' summer struggles against left-handers by holding down Detroit after the two-run fourth. Diamond tossed seven innings of two-run ball in Detroit for the second time this season.