DETROIT - It was death by Q-tips.
An excuse-me, checked-swing roller. An error by shortstop Julio Lugo, who lost his juggler's license when he failed to transfer a slow-hit tapper from his glove to his bare hand. A sacrifice bunt that rolled 10 feet, tops, from home plate. A tying ground ball by Curtis (0 for 6) Granderson that wheezed its way to second base. A broken-bat floater over Lugo's head, the batter, Placido Polanco, extracting splinters from his hands as he jogged jubilantly down to first base after the last of his five hits on the night brought home the winning run.
Tigers 10, Red Sox 9.
Jonathan Papelbon, past perfect, was saddled with a loss and his first blown save since the rakes first came out last autumn.
Two home runs by Kevin Youkilis, a tying three-run homer by Mike Lowell, and a go-ahead pinch single in the eighth by Dustin Pedroia? All for naught. Not to mention the electrifying, tag-team strike-'im-out, throw-'im-out double play turned by Hideki Okajima and Jason Varitek, Okajima's whiff of Gary Sheffield looking like a game-breaker.
"It would have been a great comeback," Sox manager Terry Francona said, perhaps as much to himself as those gathered in his office after the game.
Boston's five-game winning streak? See ya. Detroit's five-game losing streak? Semi-miraculously over; the Tigers hadn't won a game they'd trailed after eight in 19 previous tries.
The Sox started this night on the seat of their pants, the position Clay Buchholz found himself when he slipped on wet grass while trying to guide Sheffield's dribbler foul, the ball instead nicking his left foot for a gift hit.
And that's how they ended it, staggered by a confluence of nubbers and one very big flub by Lugo, whose fielding mistakes are mounting at a rate (10 in 36 games, a 45-error pace) that will have Sox fans pining for the days of that 30-E man, Edgar Renteria.
"There's a long season to go," said Papelbon, who kicked a Gatorade cooler, then pushed another one over in the dugout after the game. "It's a heavyweight title fight. One little jab ain't going to knock you out."
No, but it can momentarily take your breath away. Three innings into this one, the Sox were down, 4-0, the Tigers staying back on Buchholz's offspeed pitches and using the middle of the field to do their damage. Buchholz was gone after four, his shortest start since the Yankees roughed him up for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings April 16.
It was 8-4 after five, by which time the Tigers already had 14 hits, including four off Julian "Rip Van" Tavarez, who hadn't pitched in 30 years - 13 days, actually, but it felt like 30 years, judging by the results, Tavarez getting touched for three runs in the fifth.
The Tigers finished with 18 hits, all but two singles.
The Sox, meanwhile, swung haymakers to climb back in it.
Youkilis followed a base hit by Lowell by lining a ball into the left-field seats to make it 4-2 in the fourth. His second home run and fourth in four games, which also came off Tigers rookie righthander Armando Galarraga, came in the sixth to make it 8-5 and was Galarraga's last act of the night.
Here's one that defies explanation: Youkilis has not hit more than two home runs in any park on the road where he has played, with one exception -
Youkilis has seven home runs here, including both of his two-homer games. His first came Aug. 8, 2004. His night, however, mirrored that of the Sox, a dizzying up-and-down exercise. Youkilis also whiffed three times, only the third Sox player in the last half-century to put together a two-homer, three-whiff full house, joining Brian Daubach and Jim Rice.
On Tuesday night, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had brought in Freddy Dolsi to pitch in relief, and Manny Ramírez hit his first major league pitch 430 feet into the hedges beyond the center-field fence.
Last night, Leyland summoned Francisco Cruceta, a six-year minor league free agent who had cameo appearances in the big leagues for the Mariners and Indians, to face Lowell. He waited until Cruceta's fourth pitch before hitting one into the left-field seats to tie the score in the seventh.
An inning later, J.D. Drew walked, stole second, and scored on Pedroia's pinch single, on what started out as a night off for the second baseman. Jacoby Ellsbury had stolen second with the Sox down three runs in the seventh and scored ahead of Lowell's home run. The Sox are successful on their last 20 stolen base attempts; Ellsbury has not been thrown out in 21 career attempts.
They ran, they hit home runs, Okajima and Varitek gave them an electrifying lift. And they lost.
"That last inning," Pedroia said. "No ball was hit hard. They just placed them well."
Matt Joyce started the inning trying to lay off an 0-and-2 pitch from Papelbon, the ball making enough contact with his reluctant bat to roll a safe distance from any fielder. Lugo said he thought of trying to throw to second on Renteria's roller, but there would be no throw because of his muff. Pudge Rodriguez bunted the runners over. Granderson got the tying run home with a ground ball to Pedroia, and Polanco sent everyone home after 3 hours 55 minutes.
Papelbon had been successful in his previous 10 chances this season, and four more in the postseason last October. He hadn't blown a save since Sept. 14, 2007, against the Yankees.
"Oh, man, what can I say?" the closer said after asking for a few minutes to reflect on the car wreck that had just occurred. "Just one of those days, man. Stuff like that, you can't defend. That's baseball."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.