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NYY@DET: Avila's solo blast gets Tigers on the board

DETROIT -- Each day, it's something different for the Tigers. Only the result is the same.

That's how losing streaks reach seven games. That's also how closers go for long stretches without much work. On Monday, that fact came back to bite the Tigers.

"We've lost seven in a row -- you usually don't use your closer too much when you lose seven in a row," manager Jim Leyland said after two ninth-inning runs off Jose Valverde pulled the Yankees ahead in a 5-3 Tigers loss at Comerica Park.

"We [last] used him last Thursday against Seattle. He didn't pitch in Cleveland at all. That's not a good thing. That means you're not winning games, obviously."

That also means Valverde isn't getting in the pitches he needs to stay fresh. It's an ironic twist, considering overwork in an abundance of close games became Valverde's downfall down the stretch last season.

It wasn't funny irony as the Tigers try to find their way out of a skid that has matched their longest streak of Leyland's tenure. They haven't lost more than seven games in a row since Alan Trammell's final year as manager in 2005.

The Tigers lost seven straight last year, but that streak was interrupted by the All-Star break and featured some blowout losses, capped by an 8-0 defeat to the Rangers on July 20. Detroit lost seven straight to open the 2008 season, but few of those games were close.

The current streak includes four losses that were tied in the eighth inning or later. The Tigers' opponents have won all of those games in their final inning at the plate. This was the first one of those in which Detroit actually got to use its closer.

Leyland had to save Valverde in Cleveland, in case the Tigers took a lead into the ninth or into extra innings.

"He probably hasn't pitched enough, to be honest with you," Leyland said. "So he probably wasn't as sharp as you'd hope. He probably needs to pitch a little bit more. But obviously, you're saying, 'I won't pitch him tonight. We probably have a good chance to win tomorrow. So let's save him.'"

That wasn't a worry on Monday at home, where any lead in the ninth would've won it for the Tigers. Thus, in came Valverde for his first outing in four days, and just his second in eight days. By the time the right-hander left, he had thrown 35 pitches -- 19 of them strikes -- doubled his total of runs allowed over his previous 11 outings this year (one), and matched his previous walk total (two).

The Tigers might have won it in extra innings, the way their offense has been going. But it wasn't the way they expected to fall.

The closeness of the games produces every reason to believe the Tigers can pull out of this. But it isn't happening right now.

"I think that you just know you have a good team and you know it's going to play good," Leyland said. "I don't know if it's going to be tonight or tomorrow or the next day, but this team will play good. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind. We have too many good players. This team will play good."

Take away the first and last innings, and the Tigers arguably played well enough to win.

Solo homers from Alex Avila in the second and seventh innings, respectively, and Miguel Cabrera's third-inning RBI single comprised the Tigers' damage against familiar foe Bartolo Colon, whose career comeback in New York continued with seven strong innings.

Colon fired one fastball after another at Tigers hitters, with enough movement on nearly all of them to avoid hard hits. Austin Jackson saw nothing but fastballs in his first 11 pitches but struck out all three times, comprising nearly half of Colon's seven strikeouts.

Four of those strikeouts took just three pitches, three of the four ending with called third strikes.

"He's a strike-thrower," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Colon. "You don't see him get in too many long counts, you don't see him walk too many, and it really helps us out. We only have to use two guys. We were staying away from [Rafael] Soriano, we wanted to try and stay away from [Dave] Robertson tonight and we were able to do it."

Colon threw 97 pitches over seven innings. By comparison, Tigers starter Justin Verlander labored through six innings with 127 pitches, three off the highest pitch count of his career. Thirty-two of those pitches, though, came in a two-walk, three-hit first inning, punctuated by Jorge Posada's ground-rule double to center field.

That the ball hopped over the fence kept Nick Swisher from scoring a third run, and Verlander took advantage by striking out Russell Martin to strand him there. Brett Gardner singled and scored in the second, but that was all of the damage against Verlander.

Eight of New York's first 10 hitters reached base safely. Verlander scattered two singles and two walks from there.

"He said his arm felt really good," Leyland said. "He probably got overexcited, throwing real hard that early, pushing himself. He's done a good job making pitches at 92-93 [mph] to get outs. Tonight, with this lineup, maybe he was overamped a little bit."

Verlander recorded a quality start but was on the hook for defeat until Avila took Colon deep to left field for his second opposite-field shot and fourth home run on the year.

A 12-pitch battle between Valverde (2-1) and Curtis Granderson that resulted in a leadoff walk seemed to take something out of the right-hander, even though Granderson's wayward slide into second base on a steal attempt allowed Jhonny Peralta to tag him out. Valverde walked Mark Teixeira on four pitches before an infield single from Alex Rodriguez set up Swisher for a ground ball through the middle.

Valverde felt a tingle in his right shoulder, prompting a visit from head athletic trainer Kevin Rand, but he felt fine from there. That's one consolation -- having Valverde available if the Tigers can pull out a lead in one of these games. Right now, that's easier said than done. Comments