DETROIT -- Under most circumstances, J.D. Martinez's three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth would have brought a crowd at Comerica Park to its feet. It was the Tigers' first run in 19 innings, and it came in a pitching duel that was scoreless going into the ninth.
The Tigers are not a team of good circumstances lately. Instead, they were a team watching what would be ninth-inning heroics rendered as academic in a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night in which every run was scored in the final inning.
They're a team whose veteran closer, Major League Baseball's active saves leader, was left staring at four runs on his ledger in an outing that consisted of two walks and two ground-ball singles. The last time Anibal Sanchez started, Joe Nathan's ninth inning rendered his gem meaningless because of a three-run, walk-off homer.
His latest ninth inning behind Sanchez left his pitching coach, Jeff Jones, with little to do but laugh.
"Sometimes, that's all you can do, is laugh," Nathan said.
They're a team whose shortstop earned a regular role due to his defensive consistency, and he was left staring with uncertainty at a ground ball past his glove and through the middle that brought in Toronto's go-ahead run. It was the grounder Nathan was trying to get from slugger Jose Bautista -- and maybe, with a little luck, the double-play grounder that could get him out of a jam.
"Got through," Andrew Romine said. "It shouldn't have gotten through and it got through."
Nathan, coming off his much-scrutinized quotes from last week, wasn't about to say that.
"Did I make a pitch? Absolutely," Nathan said. "Did I get the result I wanted to, a ground ball? Absolutely. But unfortunately, it was put into position where, right into a spot where both fielders were kind of going after it, and I think it got into a spot where it was confusing which one would get it."
They're a team whose one consistently effective starter over the last couple weeks, Sanchez, has 15 1/3 innings of one-run, five-hit ball over his last two starts and no wins to show for it. Moreover, the Tigers lost both games.
"It's not personal," Sanchez said. "I think it's more for the team. If I pitch good or if I pitch bad, the result is for the team. We lost. That's the big thing. I go out and I try to do my best, I try to face the hitters, go deep, help the team gain some wins. But the result was not like that today."
And yet, for all that, despite three consecutive losses and 11 defeats in their last 15 games, the Tigers are still a first-place team, comfortably so.
"I've seen a lot of stuff, put up with a lot of things, and have dealt with a lot of stuff," Nathan said, "and I know that the important thing is, right now, the most important thing in my mind, and why I came to this baseball club is to be in first place.
"I can care less if I go out there with an 18 ERA, as long as at the end of the day, we go to the playoffs and we got a chance to go to the World Series. That's why I came here. If I have an 18 and we go to the World Series, I'm a happy camper."
With 16 earned runs over 21 innings this season, Nathan's ERA is at 6.86. The way the past couple weeks have gone, Nathan is not happy. The scattered boos from the crowd on his way off the mound suggested the feeling from fans was mutual.
"I don't give a [care] about that," Nathan said. "They can boo me all they want. I am my biggest critic. No one will put myself down more than I do. So as much as they feel like they're being tough on me, I'm way tougher on myself."
His manager, meanwhile, was noncommittal whether Nathan would pitch in a save situation if it came up Wednesday.
"I certainly wouldn't answer that right now," Brad Ausmus said. "I would talk to Joe before I made that public knowledge."
Doubles from Juan Francisco in the third inning and Edwin Encarnacion in the fourth were all the Blue Jays mustered against Sanchez, and neither advanced any further. Sanchez retired the last 10 batters he faced.
Not only did Sanchez get through the most formidable lineup in the American League these days with his homerless streak intact -- now at 50 1/3 innings this season, best in the Majors -- he didn't allow a ball out of the infield after Adam Lind's lineout to right field ended the fourth.
"I watched a lot of video of that team," Sanchez said. "Every mistake from the other pitcher, they're really aggressive with their swings, and I need my control during the whole game -- make good pitches, think a lot between pitches, and do my adjustments in every at-bat with them."
On the other side, however, Drew Hutchison was matching Sanchez with seven innings of three-hit ball. Two singles from Victor Martinez in his first two times up and a Don Kelly second-inning single comprised all of Detroit's damage against Toronto's young right-hander.
"I threw a few more sinkers tonight than I did previously," Hutchison said, "but I had a good slider tonight. Just executed good pitches and I was able to get into a good rhythm and take off from there."
The Tigers put runners on first and second with one out in the second. Hutchison retired Austin Jackson on a lineout to center, then Alex Avila on a groundout to first. By the time the Tigers put another runner into scoring position, they were down five runs in the ninth.
Nathan's demise began with an 0-2 count that turned into a leadoff walk to speedy Anthony Gose, with a couple close pitches in between. Jose Reyes' ground ball through the left side put runners at the corners with nobody out for the heart of the Toronto lineup.
"Tough spot," Nathan said. "But get the popup on [Melky] Cabrera. It's a big out. If I get Cabrera, I got a chance. I got a chance to get out of it."
He got that on the first pitch. Then he got a ground ball from Bautista.
In most circumstances, like the Martinez homer, it works out. But the only circumstances going well for the Tigers lately are the standings.