BALTIMORE -- Despite his struggles to get a clean inning, the first-place Orioles were winning with closer Tommy Hunter and entered Tuesday unbeaten in 13 games in which Hunter was called on for a save.
They are perfect no longer.
Hunter, who has walked a fine line in the ninth inning, came within a strike of ending the game only to watch things fall apart. The right-hander allowed a two-out, go-ahead homer to Miguel Cabrera -- a three-run shot -- and watched Victor Martinez launch a ball onto Eutaw Street to complete the Tigers' late rally and mark Hunter's third blown save. And this time, the Orioles couldn't rally, falling, 4-1, to lose the series to the Tigers.
"It's been a rough couple days," said Hunter, who also couldn't close things out in the ninth during Saturday's extra-innings win against the Astros. "When you don't do your job, it's tough. That's what's happening."
And as Hunter -- who negated a standout effort from rookie catcher Caleb Joseph and seven scoreless innings from starter Ubaldo Jimenez -- continues to endure nights like Tuesday, the questions have grown louder.
Do you stick with the right-hander, who has a 6.60 ERA and has allowed 23 hits and five walks in 15 innings, as the ninth-inning solution?
"I'm not going to get into handicapping, this means that and that means this," manager Buck Showalter said. "We'll constantly see what gives us the best option to pitch nine innings and be competitive and continue to be in first place. And that's what we'll do."
But does Showalter worry about Hunter, a full-time closer for the first time, being able to mentally handle this kind of a stretch?
"You're alert to it, you keep an eye on it," Showalter said. "And if there's some adjustments that need to be made, we'll make them."
Things got interesting from the get-go as Hunter gave up a leadoff single to left field against the shift to Alex Avila. Pinch-runner Rajai Davis tried to steal second, and Joseph appeared to nail him for his third caught stealing and fourth defensive out of the night, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus came out to challenge the call.
"It's one of those things where I think everybody in the stadium thought one thing and the people in New York thought another," Joseph said of the ruling, which was overturned after a 2-minute, 18-second review.
"It was very close, and the replay guy told me, 'Hey, this is a tight call, but we have to reverse it,'" crew chief Bob Davidson said. "We came in here and looked at it, and it should have been reversed."
Hunter rebounded briefly to get an infield popup and a flyout to bring on Torii Hunter, who worked a seven-pitch walk to get to Cabrera. The 2012 Triple Crown winner launched a 1-0 pitch to the deepest part of the park to put the Tigers on the board, and Martinez followed with his ninth homer of the year.
"You can't let arguably one of the best hitters in the game come to the plate," said Tommy Hunter, who agreed that Torii Hunter's at-bat was pivotal. "You've got to throw a strike right there, and I missed."
"But what are you going to do, just give in and just throw it right down [the middle]?" Showalter said. "He's trying to make a quality pitch there [to Torii Hunter]. He got a count in his favor and we lost the advantage we had there."
The O's also watched a stellar outing by Jimenez go for naught. The right-hander, who has made it no secret that getting out of April was a godsend, has been nothing short of incredible for the Orioles since the calendar flipped, and he continued that dominance against Detroit.
Jimenez, who has a 0.46 ERA in May after going 0-4 with a 6.59 ERA in April, was impressive, but it was Joseph who arguably stole the show in throwing out three baserunners.
"I was able to throw a few guys out, but the one guy I really needed to throw out, I technically did, but didn't," Joseph said. "It was one of those things where the one that I really wanted was that last one, and unfortunately I couldn't get it."
Still, Joseph -- who made his Major League debut on May 7 -- worked beautifully with Jimenez over the 97-pitch outing and twice deflated a big inning in throwing out the leadoff man.
"If it wasn't for Caleb, we might not have been in that situation [to win the game]," Showalter said. "I was really proud of Caleb tonight. He did a heck of a job. Made a lot of good decisions. But there's a lot of things we could have done. We just haven't solved their pitching in two games. We have to do some things to not create that situation. But I understand where the focus will be when you're one pitch away."
At 88 pitches to start the seventh, Jimenez -- who struck out the side in the sixth -- got into his biggest jam of the night. Jimenez allowed the first leadoff man to reach since the second with Torii Hunter's single to open the seventh, and he then walked Cabrera. But Joseph gave him a big boost, grabbing a ball with Martinez batting that just scooted away from him and firing to third base to nab Hunter trying to steal. Jimenez got Martinez to ground into a double play on the next pitch to send the O's back into the dugout.
"He was great out there," Jimenez said of Joseph, who was also behind the plate during his last outing against the Rays. "My props to him. He was calling a great game. He was able to get the runner at third base. He got me out of that inning."
Jimenez didn't need help too often. He held the lethal Detroit lineup to just three singles, striking out seven in the process. Signed to a four-year, $50 million deal this winter, Jimenez lowered his season ERA to 4.02 before turning the ball over to right-hander Darren O'Day, who struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth.
"Couldn't have asked for much better," Showalter said. "That's a tough lineup. He had everything working. Caleb did a great job with him, too. Caleb will get the cerebral part of calling a game and being engaged. He really slowed the game down tonight. The first couple of games he caught, it was moving real fast for him in the ninth inning. I would have been sitting here talking about, probably Caleb, if we had gotten the out call."
Or if the Orioles' offense had been able to provide more of a cushion. The O's offense, which has stalled at Camden Yards, got an early boost on Adam Jones' two-out homer in the first inning. Jones sent Tigers starter Drew Smyly's four-seam fastball shooting out to left field for a line-drive homer to put Baltimore on top.
But it was the lone blemish over Smyly's six innings, as the lefty allowed five hits and a pair of walks, working his way out of several tricky spots, including the bases loaded in the third.
"Part of their order, all you're trying to do is get outs," said Smyly, who helped hold the Orioles hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. "They've got some really good righties. It just keeps going. Tonight was a battle. They were making me work."
The Orioles outhit Detroit 7-6, but they couldn't get anything going off reliever Justin Miller and closer Joe Nathan, who picked up his ninth save after Hunter let the lead slip away.
"Just one pitch away," Showalter said of what this game does for Hunter's confidence. "He made some pitches. The guy he makes a good pitch on at the beginning [Avila] hits the ball off the end of the bat. Not much you can do about that. It's a tough decision for the replay people to overrule. There's another out. Made a close pitch on Hunter. Got fortunate that Ian Kinsler's ball was right at somebody. He hit that ball pretty firm. But you're a pitch away."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.