DETROIT -- Rick Porcello took a scoreless game into the sixth inning for the second straight start. Again he gave up one run-scoring hit. Again the Tigers couldn't answer back for him.
"One mistake for each pitcher," is how catcher Alex Avila summed it up after the Tigers' 2-1 loss to the Angels. "[Ours] came with guys on base."
Six days earlier it was a sinker off the plate that Baltimore's Chris Davis somehow sent over the left-field fence. On Friday it was a slide that set up a slider.
"When I get the ball, I see Torii Hunter," second baseman Omar Infante said of a missed double play opportunity that extended the sixth inning and set up Howard Kendrick's two-run double. "I know he's coming to me to break up the double play. It's a tough play."
The Tigers' struggle for runs, however, has been relatively consistent.
"I think you have to look at the overall picture," manager Jim Leyland said. "There's some nights when maybe a guy didn't pitch quite so good and we just didn't do enough, and then there's other nights when a guy like [Zack] Greinke would locate the ball really good."
Friday's loss, combined with a White Sox walk-off win over the Mariners, dropped the Tigers to 2 1/2 games back in the American League Central. They also fell a game back in the AL Wild Card race.
Greinke was the first right-handed starter the Tigers had seen in a week. And as tough as he was against Detroit during his days with Kansas City, he still had to be a welcome sight for the Tigers after they'd scored just 13 runs off lefty starters over the previous five games.
But once the Tigers saw Greinke looking more like the former Royal who dominated them in 2008 and 2009 on his way to a Cy Young Award than the Angel who had been struggling in his return to the AL, that welcome didn't last.
Greinke dropped slow curveballs over the plate and spotted fastballs on the outside corner for three of his five strikeouts, including one that drew a rare argument from Prince Fielder. In doing so he not only saved an exhausted Angels bullpen, but as in the Tigers' previous three wins, he essentially reduced this contest to a play or two. With Albert Pujols out of the lineup with a sore calf, it was exactly what the Angels wanted.
Greinke knows that feeling here. He pitched seven scoreless innings at Comerica Park in 2009 but watched Jarrod Washburn pitch by far his best game as a Tiger, taking a scoreless game into the ninth before Brandon Inge hit a walk-off homer.
This one seemed headed in that direction until Hunter came into play.
"Break it up," Hunter said of the double play. "Break it up and give ourselves a chance."
When Porcello faced the middle of the Angels' order in the fourth inning, he struck out Hunter, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo in order, using his slider and curveball for to set up his sinker for strike three.
He was rolling, and he had nine outs on ground balls. He needed a 10th.
When Maicer Izturis' leadoff single brought up the middle of the order in the sixth, Porcello worked his pitches in reverse order from the previous time but lost an 0-1 fastball that hit Hunter and moved Izturis into scoring position.
Porcello struck out Morales again, this time using sinkers to set up a curveball that Morales waved at, and got into another 0-2 count on sinkers to Trumbo. When Trumbo grounded an offspeed pitch to Ramon Santiago at third base, it looked like a potential inning-ending double play.
Infante took the ball on the outside of the bag just as Hunter was sliding.
"I got a nice little secondary [lead] so I can get out there a little earlier," Hunter said, "and I hustled and just tried to touch him and alter his throw, and I was able to do that."
Infante was on the ground, flipped over by the slide, as his throw sailed high to first and brought Fielder off the bag. It was a tough play, Infante agreed, but one he felt he could have made.
"I have a chance," Infante said. "If my throw's good, I make the out."
Up came Kendrick with two outs. Again Porcello got an 0-2 count, including a missed bunt attempt. With his breaking ball working, he tried to bury a slider to send Kendrick down.
It was the rare pitch he left up all night, and he paid for it.
"He was keeping the ball down all night, got ground balls when he needed them," Kendrick said. "And sometimes in the game, certain situations, mistakes happen. He had been cruising along all night. and I just happened to get one mistake and put a good swing on it."
Porcello (9-9) gave up two runs on seven hits over six innings, fanning six for the second straight start -- both losses in which the Tigers didn't score while he was in the game. Despite his effectiveness, he hasn't pitched with a lead since he beat the Yankees on Aug. 7.
Miguel Cabrera's 32nd homer of the season halved the deficit and chased Greinke (2-2), but it was too late. The Angels needed just four outs from their bullpen, culminating in Garrett Richards' first big league save.