CLEVELAND -- The game was a 4-hour, 43-minute marathon, with a two-hour rain delay mixed in and a 14th-inning stretch for good measure. The ending was awfully familiar.
The Tigers have seen three Indians walk-off victories at Progressive Field this year, and many before that, but they hadn't seen a game like this to set it up. Eleven scoreless innings from the Tigers bullpen, including four perfect innings from Duane Below and two more from Joaquin Benoit, couldn't buy them enough time before the Indians pulled out a 3-2 win in 14 grueling frames at 1:52 a.m. ET.
"It was a battle," said Daniel Schlereth, whose two scoreless innings included an out at the plate on a squeeze-bunt attempt in the eighth. "Their bullpen's really good, and obviously, ours is good, too. It was kind of a bullpen battle, I guess you could say. We came out on the losing end tonight, but you know what, that's baseball. That happens."
The loss whittled Detroit's lead to three games over Cleveland atop the American League Central and four games over third-place Chicago, which has won five straight.
In the end, Detroit's bullpen wasn't beaten on a walk-off hit, but a walk-off hit-by-pitch from David Pauley -- the next-to-last reliever left in the bullpen -- with the bases loaded. Realistically, they were beaten on the other side, with 10 runners left on base and an 0-for-7 performance with runners in scoring position.
"Both bullpens did a tremendous job," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose first game since his contract extension included overtime duty. "We just didn't get any big hits."
The way the game played out for two innings before the rain delay, that sounded highly unlikely. For as long as they sat, though, it might as well have been a different contest.
Two first-running runs off Doug Fister and two run-scoring groundouts from Don Kelly and Austin Jackson off Tribe starter Justin Masterson in the second inning left the game tied. After the final out of the second inning, umpires called for the tarp with heavy rains arriving, then circulating off Lake Erie.
A pair of downpours kept them waiting before finally resuming play around 9:45 p.m. ET. Both starters were finished.
From there, the game took a decidingly different tone -- set in large part by Below, who has retired all 22 batters he has faced since moving out of the Tigers' rotation and into the bullpen fewer than two weeks ago. A game that featured eight hits through two innings tacked on just nine hits over the final 12 frames.
The Indians' bullpen has drawn raves for much of the season, despite some second-half struggles. The Tigers' bullpen had been comparatively much-maligned, notably for its lack of depth. For most of the night, they were evenly matched, seemingly holding serve to put pressure on the other to do the same.
"There weren't a lot of chances on both sides," said Indians reliever Vinny Pestano. "We were just going back and forth and back and forth. This is the longest game I've been a part of, and it's certainly one of the most important, given the circumstances of playing the Tigers."
Two days after Below sent down all seven Royals he faced, he retired all 12 Indians batters. Schlereth retired his first four, three of them on called third strikes, before Jason Donald's pinch-hit double leading off the eighth broke up the no-hit bid, of sorts.
Ezequiel Carrera's groundout advanced Donald to third, but with a 1-1 count on Michael Brantley, Indians manager Manny Acta took a chance and signaled for a squeeze.
"I take full responsibility for it; I called for it," he said. "That lefty, Schlereth, was just eating up our left-handers. I took a gamble."
Brantley missed badly on Schlereth's curveball down and away, leaving Donald to be run down between third and home.
"Right when I saw him square, I kind of put a little extra on it just to make sure it was out of his reach," Schlereth said. "Worked out pretty well."
Phil Coke pushed aside his recent struggles and tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts. Al Alburquerque got five outs, fanning two. Benoit's season-high two innings included revenge against Carlos Santana, who beat him for a walk-off grand slam in April.
The Tigers had several missed scoring chances on their side, from runners at the corners with one out in the sixth to a Ramon Santiago pinch-hit bunt attempt that turned into a popout double play in the seventh. Detroit's leadoff batter reached base in seven of the final 10 innings, but advanced into scoring position just twice.
Even the defenses stayed awake. A diving catch from Jason Kipnis robbed Alex Avila of a single with a runner on in the 14th. A similar dive from Miguel Cabrera robbed Carrera in the 13th, as did a sliding catch from Brennan Boesch in the 12th.
Tigers relievers recorded 11 scoreless innings on two hits with three walks and 12 strikeouts. Indians relievers -- all of them, including two innings from final reliever Frank Herrmann -- tossed 12 scoreless on six hits and fanned 11.
"We just couldn't do anything with their bullpen," Leyland said.
Like Herrmann, Pauley had been waiting all night. Once he got his shot, he struck out Kipnis, but walked Asdrubal Cabrera on four pitches. Travis Hafner hit a sharp bouncer that skipped past second baseman Carlos Guillen and into center field to move Cabrera to third.
Pauley intentionally walked Santana to bring up Kosuke Fukudome. It almost worked once Fukudome fouled off back-to-back pitches to fall into a 1-2 count, setting up what Avila and Pauley hoped was the strikeout pitch.
"One of the reasons why we went in trying to get the strikeout there was because he was almost kind of changing and wasn't bailing out," Avila said. He was trying to stay in."
Said Pauley: "I was trying to make a pitch to kind of move him back off the plate a little bit, set up something away. It just went a little too far."
What was left of the crowd of 25,317 erupted in part elation, part relief. The Tigers, like they have two other times here this year, walked off.
"We're going to sleep on this and get rid of this game," Schlereth said. "We'll be back here ready to win tomorrow -- er, I'm sorry, later on today."