DETROIT — Aside from one big inning, this was a forgettable series for the New York Yankees.
Manager Joe Girardi's team can't afford many more setbacks in the race for a postseason spot.
"We can't let this gap get too big," he said.
Alex Avila hit an RBI single off the wall in right field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Detroit Tigers a 3-2 victory over the Yankees on Thursday. New York arrived in Detroit having won five in a row before losing two of three to the Tigers.
Detroit, still chasing Kansas City for the AL Central lead, pulled even with Seattle in the race for the American League's second wild card. The Yankees are three games back.
A day after David Price gave up nine straight hits in New York's eight-run third inning, the Tigers sent Kyle Lobstein to the mound for his first major league start. The rookie performed well, allowing one earned run in six innings.
Then Detroit's bullpen held off New York until the Tigers scored in the ninth off Shawn Kelley (2-5). Victor Martinez led off with a double through a shifted infield and Kelley walked J.D. Martinez before striking out Nick Castellanos and pinch-hitter Torii Hunter.
Avila followed with a drive to right that Ichiro Suzuki couldn't quite get to. Kelley flung his glove to the ground as soon as Avila connected.
"That's about as bad as I've felt walking off a mound in my career," Kelley said. "I got myself in a hole, but then I got the two outs I needed, and I had a chance to keep the team alive. But I hung a slider, and Alex Avila can hit that pitch. Most guys can hit that pitch."
Phil Coke (2-2) got one very eventful out for the win.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Brian McCann hit a long foul ball to right field that nearly ended up being a three-run homer. Coke recovered to strike him out.
"I thought we swung the bats well today, but we didn't have any luck at all," Girardi said. "We hit the ball hard a bunch of times, but everything was right at someone."
Hiroki Kuroda allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings for New York, but he's still without a victory over the Tigers in his career. He's beaten baseball's other 29 teams.
Avila opened the scoring in the second with a sacrifice fly, then Jacoby Ellsbury tied it in the third with an RBI single.
McCann's RBI groundout in the fourth put New York ahead, and Rajai Davis tied it with a run-scoring single in the fifth.
OFFENSIVE WOES: Since that eight-run inning against Price, the Yankees have scored only two runs in 15 innings — and that was against the unproven Lobstein and Detroit's erratic bullpen. At one point Thursday, New York made 16 straight outs.
Derek Jeter continued to receive standing ovations in the state where he grew up. Barring a postseason matchup, this was the retiring shortstop's final game at Detroit. He went 0 for 4.
Yankees: RHP Masahiro Tanaka was on the field before the game throwing 49 pitches in a simulated game. Girardi said Tanaka was able to use all his pitches. The Japanese star hasn't pitched since July 8 because of a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.
Tigers: RHP Joakim Soria (left oblique strain) threw off flat ground Tuesday and Wednesday and felt no pain. He is scheduled to throw again Friday at a longer distance. ... RHP Luke Putkonen was scheduled to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment with Class A West Michigan on Thursday night. He has been sidelined since April 19 because of right elbow inflammation.
Yankees: Chris Capuano (1-3) takes the mound Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at Toronto. Mark Buehrle (11-8) starts for the Blue Jays — he is 1-12 lifetime against the Yankees, and has lost his last 10 decisions.