DETROIT -- The Tigers' season-long saga at shortstop might finally have an answer with sweet-swinging shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Their bullpen drama, by contrast, rolls on.
On Sunday night, it had nothing to do with closer Joe Nathan.
"This one's on me," Joba Chamberlain said after David Ortiz's three-run home run in the ninth inning sent Detroit from the verge of another series sweep of the Red Sox to a 5-3 loss instead. "The great thing about this game, we get an opportunity to turn around tomorrow and get back out there."
They'll have Nathan back, his arm having rested from the 32-pitch outing he delivered to finish off Saturday night's win. They'll still have their issues to address. Nathan's responsible for 18 of the 90 earned runs Tigers relievers have given up on the year, producing a 4.77 bullpen ERA that now ranks last in the Majors following Sunday's outing.
The Tigers have given up 44 runs in the ninth inning, a dozen more than the next-highest total in the Majors. Their 10 homers allowed in the ninth are tied for the most in baseball.
"You certainly don't want to be giving up runs like that in the ninth inning," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I'm not overly concerned about it, but it's gotta stop at some point. And I do think Joe is going to get his groove back, so to speak, and be fine. I think once Joe returns to form, then I think those numbers will come back to Earth."
Nathan, having thrown 44 pitches over the previous two nights, wasn't available Sunday, which is why Chamberlain was pitching the ninth inning. With Anibal Sanchez needing 112 pitches over six innings, 24 of them fouled off by Red Sox hitters to extend at-bats, the Tigers had to cover three innings without the closer.
They very nearly pulled it off. They carried a lead heading into the ninth in no small part because lefty Phil Coke retired Ortiz in a game-changing opportunity in the seventh. They were out of lefties when Boston's slugger came up again.
"We were able to run the pitch count up on Sanchez, to get into the bullpen," Red Sox manager John Farrell. "A lot has to do with the quality at-bats up and down the lineup, but Mike Napoli's presence was definitely felt here tonight."
Ortiz actually stepped to the plate four times Sunday with runners in scoring position. The Tigers retired him the first three times in vastly different ways. Sanchez struck him out with two on in the third inning, preventing Boston's first run from starting a major rally.
Ortiz was the third of Sanchez's seven strikeouts over six quality innings, but the Red Sox sapped the righty's pitch count along the way with foul balls to extend at-bats. By the time Nick Castellanos' quick grab of Ortiz's line drive ended the fifth inning with a runner on second in a 2-1 game, Sanchez was already at 101 pitches, 22 of them foul balls.
"They're fighters," Sanchez said. "They fight in all their at-bats."
They fought back in the sixth, when Napoli's leadoff homer tied the game and ended the longest homerless streak in the Majors. Sanchez hadn't allowed a home run since Napoli hit one here in Game 5 of last year's American League Championship Series.
Though Sanchez kept it at that, the homer cost him a chance at a win yet again. Ortiz had a chance to break the game open an inning later with runners at the corners and two outs, after Evan Reed walked Dustin Pedroia on four pitches. It was a similar situation that the Red Sox had Saturday night.
Ausmus had Coke ready to face Ortiz on Saturday before Max Scherzer convinced Ausmus to let him stay in the game. This time, Ausmus turned to his much-maligned lefty, who had held Ortiz 2-for-20 over his career.
Coke fell behind in a 3-0 count, barely missing the inside corner on one, bringing him within a pitch of loading the bases for the right-handed hitting Napoli. From there, Coke challenged Ortiz with mid-90s fastballs and survived, getting three straight foul balls before Ortiz centered the fourth.
"It's a long way to center," Coke smiled.
Ortiz sent it to the depths, but Austin Jackson corralled it just shy of the warning track in center field to keep the game tied, and allow rookie shortstop Suarez's second RBI single of the night to pull Detroit ahead in the bottom of the inning.
Suarez wasn't even in the big leagues when the week began. The Tigers called him up midweek to help address a shortstop position that had featured some of the lowest offensive production of any position on any team in the big leagues. After homering off Jon Lester for his first Major League hit Saturday, his two line drives into left field provided the bulk of Detroit's offense Sunday, in a game that saw Miguel Cabrera exit in the sixth inning with a tight left hamstring.
Brock Holt's leadoff single -- one of four hits for Boston's left fielder -- all but ensured Chamberlain would have to face Ortiz, 6-for-21 lifetime against him from their days as AL East foes. Chamberlain (1-3) struck out Xander Bogearts and put Pedroia in an 0-2 count, but couldn't finish him off. His walk put two on for Ortiz.
"You've gotta get ahead of him," Chamberlain said. "He can change the game with one swing, obviously. We've seen it for numerous years. I got ahead early and was just trying to bury one back foot and try to get him to roll over. It stayed up, and he obviously did what he needed to do."
Ortiz belted the 1-1 slider halfway up the right-field seats for his 14th home run on the year.
"It's just one of those things," Ausmus said. "What are you gonna do? He came up against a very good hitter, and the hitter won."