TORONTO -- Both the Tigers and right-hander Rick Porcello entered Friday's series opener against the Blue Jays riding a wave of recent success.
Detroit had won 14 of its past 18 games, while Porcello hadn't lost in over a month and carried a 2.89 ERA over his last six starts into the outing. But Porcello and the Tigers were stopped in their tracks by a Blue Jays team trying to catch them in the American League Wild Card standings.
Porcello and the Tigers were unable to overcome a four-run fourth inning by Toronto, dropping the first of a three-game set, 8-3, in front of an energetic crowd of 33,962 at Rogers Centre.
"He threw the ball fine. He was one pitch away from getting out of that inning, and if he gets out of that inning, it could be a whole different story," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
That one pitch that Leyland was referring to was a hanging slider that Porcello left up to Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis with the bases loaded in the fourth. Mathis responded by clearing the bases with a double down the left-field line to erase a 2-1 lead and put the Blue Jays ahead, 4-2.
"I got a right-handed hitter that I wanted up there and just didn't make a good pitch to him and got burned," said Porcello, who surrendered five runs on six hits, walked two and struck out one. "It was really just a matter of one pitch that ended up being the difference."
The 23-year-old was solid the rest of the game, retiring seven straight before the rocky frame, and seven of the last eight batters he faced after it, but Toronto needed just one inning to complete most of its damage.
Leyland was happy with how Porcello kept the ball down in the strike zone for much of the game, but said his "control left him a little that inning," as Porcello issued his only two walks in the fourth and half his hits on the night.
Porcello, who recorded 13 ground-ball outs, had trouble finding comfort in the things that did go well for him, beating himself up over the ball he threw to Mathis.
"I really don't care what happened the rest of the game -- that slider was a three-run pitch right there. That wasn't good," Porcello said.
He was also upset that the Tigers lost to a team they could be fighting for a playoff spot with in the Jays, who trail Detroit by just 2 1/2 games.
"We have to do a better job on shutting the door on some of these teams that we are more than capable of doing," Porcello said.
Before scuffling through the fourth, Porcello was handed an early lead in the first thanks to Detroit's powerful 3-4 tandem of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Cabrera hammered a 2-2 changeup from Toronto starter Carlos Villanueva over the fence in left, his 25th homer of the season, to put the Tigers on the board. After hitting 12 home runs his rookie year, Cabrera has 25-plus homers in nine consecutive seasons.
His partner in crime, Fielder, was not to be outdone, hitting an 0-1 slider to right-center field to put the Tigers ahead, 2-0. It was Fielder's 15th homer of the season, and first since the All-Star break.
The back-to-back homers marked the second time this season that Cabrera and Fielder have achieved the feat, and the first since Detroit's second game.
Detroit, however, couldn't get to Villanueva after that, as the righty settled down to improve to 6-0 after lasting five innings and allowing four hits, two walks while striking out three.
"I felt like a magician out there today -- pulling all the tricks out," Villanueva said. "I know some starts are going to be that way, probably more than I want to during the course of a season but it worked."
Outfielder Quintin Berry, who was one of three Tigers to collect a pair of hits, was impressed with Villanueva's performance.
"Everybody knows he has many pitches he can throw and he was throwing them all," said Berry, who went 2-for-4 to increase his average to .291. "We were doing a good job of trying to wait him out but he has good stuff."
Detroit tacked on one more in the eighth as Cabrera and Fielder hooked up again. Cabrera led off with an opposite-field double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Fielder off reliever Darren Oliver to make it a 6-3 game.
But that was as close as the Tigers could get, and they fell behind even further when reliever Duane Below surrendered a two-run homer to Travis Snider in the bottom half of the frame to make it an 8-3 ballgame.
"We just got to stay in there and stay focused, we got two day games coming up and hopefully we can go right back at them and keep fighting," Berry said. "Things like today are going to happen but as long as you come back the next day and start over, you will be all right."
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.