DETROIT -- The Tigers weren't going to win them all. But nobody imagined them losing their first like this.
When Justin Verlander was mowing down hitters through the first four-plus innings, he looked like he had a chance at history. When he went into the ninth inning with a one-hit shutout and 81 pitches, he looked like a shoo-in to go the distance.
Nearly an hour later, after former teammate Fernando Rodney had finished off the final out of a 4-2 Rays comeback win, the Tigers looked like someone who had taken a punch to the gut.
It was the first loss of the year for Detroit, the American League's last unbeaten team, and Verlander's first loss since last July 15. The Tigers knew how it happened. They were just stunned that it happened.
"That was a well-pitched game by both guys," manager Jim Leyland said. "Verlander was terrific. Justin Verlander, with that kind of pitch count going into the ninth inning, you're feeling awful good.
"... He just didn't close it out. It's that simple. He got out of whack. It looked like he got into trying-too-hard mode to close it out."
It sounded like a comment from Verlander's younger days, when he would work too quickly, throw too hard in tight situations. Even three years ago, when Rodney was closing games for him, Verlander would have innings when he would overthrow and waste pitches.
That changed last year. If anybody earned the right to close a game with that pitch count, it's Verlander. Afterward, he sounded like a closer that had just blown a save.
"This loss rests solely on my shoulders today," said Verlander, whose 14-game unbeaten streak came to an end.
When Jose Valverde's first blown save in more than a year spoiled Verlander's chance at an Opening Day victory, the debate centered on whether Leyland took out Verlander too soon at 105 pitches. Wednesday was the flip side.
"If I would've taken Justin Verlander out with 81 pitches in the ninth inning of today's game, with a shutout -- I know I'm sick, but they should've checked my temperature," Leyland said.
The only hit until the ninth was a Ben Zobrist line-drive single in the fifth inning. The only thing close to a hit after that was Jose Lobaton's ground ball up the middle, which shortstop Jhonny Peralta ran down to end the eighth.
The way that Verlander was working steadily and efficiently towards a shutout, it was easy to miss the fact that Rays starter James Shields had sent down 10 Tigers in a row and 12 of the final 13 batters he faced after Andy Dirks' leadoff double set up Detroit's second run in the fifth.
It became evident once pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger singled off Verlander to lead off the ninth, sending Reid Brignac to the plate as the potential tying run.
"I got away from what I've been doing all day," Verlander said. "I've been playing to those guys' aggressiveness, getting them out in front of offspeed stuff and then I just got away from it there in the ninth. ...
"Once a couple guys got on, [it was] really the first time I've cranked it up like that and lost a little bit of my consistency that I had all day. It's inexcusable."
Verlander stuck out Brignac by overpowering him on three fastballs. When Verlander put Desmond Jennings into a 1-2 count, he tried to finish him off with a curveball and missed. He came back with a 99-mph fastball, which Jennings flared into right to put the tying run on base.
"Jennings had a great at-bat, I thought," Leyland said. "He was spread out, and you could see he was just trying to make contact, and he had a great at-bat."
Verlander went to his curveball again, this time to Carlos Pena, and buried two in the dirt. Pena, who has struck out at least 158 times in each of the last four years, passed. Verlander followed with his only 100-mph fastball and missed for a walk.
"He threw two really, really good curveballs to him," catcher Alex Avila said. "We thought we were going to get him to swing, but he checked it. You've got to give him credit. I know that last pitch, the fastball, he was trying to strike him out with it and just ended up yanking it."
Verlander fired 98-mph fastballs to Evan Longoria, who passed on the first, then chopped the second one to the left side. It went just under the glove of a diving Miguel Cabrera for a game-tying single.
The Rays milked 23 pitches out of Verlander in the ninth. He retired only one of the six Rays he faced. Elliot Johnson's walk off Daniel Schlereth and Zobrist's two-run single off Jose Valverde won it, but it went on Verlander's record.
"Just made a couple of mistakes in that ninth inning that sometimes we may not capitalize on," Longoria said. "But today we were able to capitalize on his mistakes and put ourselves in situations to get some big hits."