DETROIT -- Complete disbelief. That's about the only way the Red Sox could feel after a gutwrenching Sunday afternoon in which they squandered multirun leads twice, culminating in a 13-12, 11-inning loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Alfredo Aceves, who hasn't recorded an out in his first two outings as closer, came on with a 10-7 lead in the bottom of the ninth. The lead was gone seven pitches later when Miguel Cabrera smoked an equalizing three-run homer to left.
After Nick Punto and Dustin Pedroia had put the Sox ahead again with RBI singles in the top of the 11th, Mark Melancon was the latest Boston reliever who couldn't hang on.
Alex Avila roped a two-run walk-off homer that just cleared the wall in right.
"They're obviously a good team, but we needed to get that one today, and that's on my shoulders," Melancon said. "You know, today, obviously it was a hanging breaking ball and those guys are good and they're going to hit that. I need to stay aggressive and not let these affect me and keep going, if I can ever sleep. It's still only three games, I understand that, but today can't happen."
Now the Red Sox are left to wonder if they have a closing crisis. It was the second walk-off loss in the young season for the Sox, and it culminated a three-game season-opening sweep at the hands of the Tigers. Melancon and Aceves have been the culprits in both of the late-inning losses.
When closer Andrew Bailey learned at the end of Spring Training he had to undergo right thumb surgery and miss at least half the season, the timing could not have been worse.
On the fly, new manager Bobby Valentine was left to try to define new roles, and thus far, the pitchers haven't looked comfortable in them.
"We're trying to figure out what to do," said Valentine. "We'll keep it a work in progress. We're three days into this thing since we lost our closer."
The Red Sox are 0-3 and will head to Toronto for three games, hoping to avoid duplicating their 0-6 start of last season.
"Three games isn't a start," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We have 159 more. We could win 10 in a row and be 10-3 and everyone would say we're off to the best start in the world. We've just got to come out tomorrow and play good. Same energy and just play the game. Get in the grind. Get in the everyday of getting your at-bats and making pitches and stuff like that."
After producing just two runs over the first two games, the bats weren't the issue in this one. In fact, they nearly carried Boston to victory.
Valentine shuffled the deck for this game, inserting utility man Punto into the leadoff spot and moving Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz one spot down. Those five hitters all had multihit games, and Mike Aviles gave Boston a three-hit game from the No. 8 spot.
Punto had three hits and three RBIs, including a bloop RBI single that gave the Red Sox the lead in the top of the 11th. Pedroia delivered what looked to be a key insurance run, giving Melancon a 12-10 lead.
But the trouble started again in the bottom of the 11th when Cabrera ripped a one-out single. Prince Fielder then deftly broke the shift deployed by the Red Sox and placed a single past the vacated third base and into left.
Delmon Young's sac fly brought Detroit within a run. Still, Melancon was just one strike away from pinning down the save, only to leave a hanging curve right in Avila's wheelhouse.
"They're tough. They're going to be a tough team," Avila said. "I think it would've been just as crazy against anybody else. Today's game, you don't see those kind of games at this level very often. There's really no rhyme or reason for it."
The Red Sox were just trying to survive when the game started. Clay Buchholz, making his first start since June 16 of last season, gave up four runs in the bottom of the first.
The Boston bats came up big, producing two in the second, five in the third and getting a two-run rocket by Gonzalez that snapped a 7-7 tie and gave the Sox their first lead of the season.
By the bottom of the ninth, that lead was 10-7.
Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch led off with singles. Cabrera jumped all over the first pitch by Aceves, and Comerica Park went into a frenzy.
"My feeling? Nothing, man. The season [just] started," Aceves said. "There's nothing we can do. The ball was just out. Pretty good hitter."
If Aceves is feeling down about the way he's done in the first two games, he's determined not to let it show.
"Yeah, he hit it hard," Aceves said. "Forget about that, man. We've got a lot of games to play and a lot of things to do. Stay positive, go to the next series and try to win the series. That's what it's all about, try to win the series. If we win the series, we're good. It's one series, man. This is the first one. Even the Yankees got swept."
Aside from getting a big day with the bats, the Sox might have found a new stalwart for their bullpen. Vicente Padilla came on in relief of Buchholz to fire four scoreless innings.
"I feel very good, happy to go in there and help the team," Padilla said. "I felt healthy, and that was good in that aspect. But in another aspect, we didn't win the game."