DETROIT -- The glimmer of hope that the Yankees need to end their recent skid arrived in a loud ninth inning, as Jose Valverde had trouble slamming the door and the Bombers' bats assembled their best threat of the evening.
Nobody would accuse the Yankees of not playing all 27 outs, but this outburst was just a tease. The Yankees ended one hit short; Valverde induced Curtis Granderson to pop up for the final out, securing a 6-5 Tigers victory on Tuesday at Comerica Park.
The losses are becoming tougher to swallow for the American League East-leading Yankees, who have now dropped 12 of their last 18 games, whittling what was once a double-digit division lead down to 4 1/2 games -- New York's thinnest margin since June 29.
"There should be a high level of concern," Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez said. "Anybody who says that there isn't is lying. You've just got to win ballgames, and we're not finding a way to do that, and it should be a concern. It's that time of the year when it's a concern. We need to start playing good and winning games."
Valverde wobbled trying to close out his 22nd save and a victory for starter Rick Porcello, as Raul Ibanez worked a nine-pitch, two-out walk and Ichiro Suzuki slapped a single to center field, driving home Chavez after his one-out hit.
Russell Martin followed with a run-scoring double that struck the left-field wall, bringing home Ibanez, but third-base coach Rob Thomson had to hold Ichiro at third base because left fielder Andy Dirks scooped the ball quickly.
"No chance -- the guy would have had to throw the ball up in the stands," manager Joe Girardi said.
That brought up the slumping Granderson, who has struggled since being shifted to the leadoff spot and has one hit in his last 18 at-bats. His sky-high pop landed in Prince Fielder's glove at first base, finalizing Detroit's sixth straight win.
"I wasn't able to do the things I wanted to with the last pitch of the game; popped it up," Granderson said. "I should have hit that ball a little better, so that's all part of it. Game of inches, as they say."
The Yankees are hardly the only team looking for ways to miss Miguel Cabrera's bat, but they're still seeking answers. Cabrera homered and collected three RBIs, pacing the Tigers in roughing up starter Phil Hughes for four runs in 4 1/3 innings.
"He's super-tough," Martin said. "You look at his numbers on fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups -- he's hitting over .300 on all of them. When he's hitting, it's like, pick your poison."
Hughes surrendered eight hits in a less-than-stellar outing. The right-hander's final pitch was slugged off the left-field fence by Cabrera in the fifth inning for a two-run double.
"He's a tough out all the time," Hughes said of Cabrera. "I tried to go to a breaking ball there in the fifth, and he stayed on it pretty good. It was up over the plate a little bit. He's one of the best hitters in the game for a reason."
Cabrera, the Major Leagues' RBIs leader with 95, struck the first blow for the Tigers in that fourth inning, hitting his 29th homer of the year. Jhonny Peralta tied the game with a run-scoring double that scooted past Chavez at third base.
"It was just a weird hop," Chavez said. "Some you get, some you don't."
Efficiency was not on Hughes' side in a 102-pitch outing. The right-hander burned 21 of those pitches on lengthy battles in the second and fourth innings with Brennan Boesch, surrendering hits both times.
"Those are probably the two at-bats that hurt him, besides Cabrera, the most because he made him work so hard," Girardi said. "And then it led to runs."
Dirks added a run-scoring double off Cody Eppley in the sixth inning and an RBI single facing Joba Chamberlain in the eighth.
Porcello limited New York to three runs over 6 2/3 innings, leaving to a standing ovation after Ichiro's run-scoring double in the seventh inning. Chavez accounted for the other two Yankees runs off Porcello with a fourth-inning two-run homer.
"I think the injury bug is starting to catch up to us where I think we got away with it early," Chavez said. "This all seems to be when we lost Alex [Rodriguez]. He's just a huge part of our lineup, and I think we're really showing how important he is to this team."
Rodriguez is traveling with the team, but with a cast covering his fractured left hand, there's little he can do but cheer. He can't be an answer until sometime in September, and so the Yankees need to find ways to make do without their highest-paid asset.
"Just keep fighting," Chavez said. "There's nothing to do, really. It is a bad stretch, and we're not playing good, but I'm a big believer in when things are going good, bad's around the corner, and when bad's here, good's around the corner. That's what keeps me going."