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OAK@DET: Below picks up his first career strikeout

DETROIT -- Coming into the day, Duane Below was known in just his small hometown of Britton, Mich., and some of his Minor League stops.

By the end of the day, he was famous in Japan and popular enough in Detroit to likely earn another start, as he pitched five-plus solid innings in a 7-5 loss to the Athletics on Wednesday.

Making his Major League debut, Below -- who grew up an hour away from Comerica Park -- gave up five hits and three runs, one of them earned, and gave the Tigers a chance to win. But the bullpen couldn't hold on as the Tigers lost just their third game of the season when leading after six innings.

"It's nice, it's exciting," Below said. "[I was] just trying to continue to feel it out and feel what I have to do to get better. I'm still kind of nervous a little bit, I'm still excited, not sure how to take it, because it's still settling in. It's a dream. Hopefully I can continue to stay here and help the team win."

Below was called up earlier in the day to make a start as the Tigers look to find a fifth starter since moving Phil Coke back to the bullpen. Below was good enough in his debut to likely earn another start, barring Detroit acquiring another starter, as the Tigers begin a seven-game road trip to Minnesota and Chicago.

Below finished with 77 pitches. The average speed of his fastball was 89 mph, but that was because he lost some velocity in the middle innings before regaining it, something that alerted Tigers manager Jim Leyland to keep the bullpen ready.

"I thought at one point, maybe the heat was getting to him a little bit. It made me nervous because he dropped a little bit in velocity at one point, but then he picked back up again," Leyland said. "I don't know what that was. Maybe he was taking something off of it, throwing a [batting practice] fastball, then he picked back up again. He did a good job. He really did."

After retiring the first six batters he faced, he found trouble in the third inning. David DeJesus reached on a fielding error by Carlos Guillen to lead off the inning. A single by Landon Powell put runners on the corners and Coco Crisp singled in a run two batters later. A walk to Cliff Pennington then loaded the bases.

After Josh Willingham struck out, Hideki Matsui hit a ball off Below's hand and barely beat out an infield single to score a run. Conor Jackson finished the inning with a flyout.

"I wish I could have made the play so we didn't give up that second run, but I'm happy with getting out of that inning just giving up the two," Below said.

The Tigers tied the game in the following frame. Ramon Santiago drove in a run on a groundout after Don Kelly led off with a triple. Austin Jackson hit a single, stole second, moved to third on a Brennan Boesch groundout and scored on a single from Magglio Ordonez.

Below gave up one hit in the next two innings, but Matsui hit a home run off the right-field foul pole to lead off the sixth and end Below's day. A Japanese reporter let Below know after the game that he was famous in Japan for that because it was the 500th home run of Matsui's career, including his time in Japan. Below laughed.

"I wanted it a little bit lower and maybe a little more inside, but he likes the ball in and he has fast hands and was able to get around it and keep it fair," Below said. "He's a good hitter."

But the Tigers again came back in the following frame. Victor Martinez drove in two runs with a double and Kelly hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead.

David Purcey came in for the seventh inning and that's where the troubles began for the Tigers. Purcey walked the bases loaded on 16 pitches against his former team before being pulled.

"I was just trying to overdo everything," Purcey said. "I got ahead of a couple hitters and I was trying too hard to make a pitch, instead of just going right after the hitters."

After giving up no runs in his first eight appearances with the Tigers, Purcey has given up 12 earned runs in his last 7 2/3 innings pitched. Purcey said he and pitching coach Jeff Jones have been working on the positioning of his hands and the way he's setting up on the mound.

"We're going to go back to square one and just get back to the basics on it and work on it together and make the adjustment we need to make and move on," Purcey said.

Joaquin Benoit relieved Purcey and allowed all three runners to score as the Athletics took a 7-5 lead they would not give up.

"However we can get an extra base and put baserunners on and put pressure on the other team, that's what we have to do, so that was key," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said.

The Tigers were frustrated to split a two-game series against one of the worst hitting teams in the Majors heading into an important road trip.

"I've never seen so many two-game series bloop hits and broken bats hits that killed us," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "We had hard-hit balls all over the place right at guys. It's just one of those series where we were able to get one yesterday and this one was frustrating because you make the pitches and somehow the ball finds some space out there." Comments