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DET@PIT: Avila reduces deficit with solo homer

PITTSBURGH -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been a master of the polysyllabic adjective in his media session. His summary of the past nine games needed no dictionary.

"It was a crappy trip," he said after Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park completed a 2-7 trek. "That's how I would assess it."

Torii Hunter, master of positive thinking, used letter grades.

"It's an F," he said. "We get an A for effort, but an F for results. Definitely not a passing grade."

Victor Martinez, the quiet leader, just wanted to declare it over.

"It's just not a good feeling on this stretch," he said. "But there's nothing that we can do now. It's over. This road trip is over."

By the numbers, it was their worst nine-game road stretch since July 28-Aug. 6, 2008, when a 2-7 stretch in Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Chicago helped take them out of contention in the AL Central. They won the finale of that 10-game trip, but faded mightily down the stretch.

Their just-finished stretch saw them leave Detroit last Monday with a five-game division lead and return with a half-game deficit to the Royals, who finally saw their winning streak end at eight games.

They left town with people debating who in the Tigers' vaunted rotation would be in the bullpen for the inevitable playoff run. They return with three healthy starters, and a 2013 Draft pick who was at Class A West Michigan a few weeks ago set to start Wednesday night.

They left town with a restocked bullpen boasting relatively set roles. They return home picking and choosing relievers by freshness.

They left with the division theirs to lose. They return with a playoff race.

To Hunter, as crazy as it sounds, that last point might be the one positive in all of this.

"We're going through a tough time right now," he said quietly in a hushed clubhouse, "and I promise you the trials and tribulations that we're having are going to make us stronger. In past years, I'm pretty sure the Tigers have been at the top, and kind of easy. But right now, we're being slapped in the face. I think that brings out the fight in you, and I'm excited about that. I hate to say it, but I'm excited.

"We're going to have to fight. You appreciate things you fight for. Anything that's given to you, you kind of don't appreciate it."

If they're going to fight, they're going to have to hit. And that's one thing that looks the same from the start of the road trip to the finish. They scored two runs or fewer in five of these nine games.

"We're not pointing fingers at any particular people here," Hunter said. "We haven't hit as a whole on this road trip. As a team, we haven't scored runs. We've gotten hits at times. We haven't scored runs. And we've got to find a way to drive runners in.

"It's not one person's fault. It's the entire's team fault, and the blame's on everybody's shoulders."

Detroit had its chance at a big inning off Edinson Volquez in the first with three straight one-out hits, Ian Kinsler's single scoring Ezequiel Carrera and putting runners at the corners for Victor Martinez. They ended up with Kinsler in a rundown at home plate to avoid an inning-ending double play when Volquez made a blind stab at Martinez's comebacker. J.D. Martinez then flied out to end the threat.

Volquez (10-7) gave up two hits over his next five innings. One was Alex Avila's fourth-inning solo homer. The other was starting pitcher Robbie Ray's first Major League hit, a comebacker that Volquez deflected.

"I think we kind of helped him a little bit," Victor Martinez said. "We went out of the zone. I think that was pretty much it."

Ray (1-2), ranked by MLB.com as the Tigers' No. 2 prospect, tried to help his own cause on a night when one, possibly two, of his four runs allowed over five-plus innings scored on defensive misfortune. Gaby Sanchez doubled in Russell Martin on a ground ball that snuck just inside the third-base line and under Miguel Cabrera's glove as he tried to reach for his right foot and make a play.

One batter later, Travis Snider hit a fly ball that both Carrera and Rajai Davis chased down in left-center but watched fall when they pulled up, each seemingly expecting the other to make the play. The double scored Sanchez and built a 2-1 lead that put Pittsburgh ahead for good.

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