DETROIT — Alfredo Aceves or Mark Melancon? That was the big question facing new Boston manager Bobby Valentine at the beginning of the season.
Right now, neither closer candidate looks up to the task.
Alex Avila’s two-run homer off Melancon with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning gave the Detroit Tigers a stunning 13-12 victory over Red Sox on Sunday, leaving Boston winless in three games under Valentine.
The manager twice was on the verge of his first victory with the Red Sox, but his fill-in closers could never get the final out. Miguel Cabrera tied the game with a three-run shot off Aceves in the ninth. Boston then scored two runs in the 11th, but Melancon (0-2) couldn’t hold the lead.
“This is a work in progress,” Valentine said. “We’re three days in after losing our closer, and we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Boston is without newly acquired closer Andrew Bailey, who had surgery on his right thumb. Melancon and Aceves are the primary candidates to close in Bailey’s absence, and both blew saves on Sunday.
Melancon also took the loss in Thursday’s opener when he allowed the winning run to reach base — although it was Aceves who ultimately gave up Austin Jackson’s game-winning hit in the ninth inning that day.
Aceves hasn’t retired a batter in two appearances. Melancon has allowed four runs and five hits in one inning.
Avila’s homer gave Detroit a series sweep.
“Just a hanging curveball, and he hit it,” Melancon said. “I needed one more pitch, and I made a mistake, and now they’re celebrating.”
Cabrera and Prince Fielder singled in the 11th before a wild pitch sent Cabrera to third and Delmon Young’s sacrifice fly cut the margin in half. Avila followed with a drive to right and Cody Ross tried to make a leaping catch, but the ball appeared to hit a restraining gate just above the wall before caroming back onto the field.
Avila paused near second, then was waved around the bases by the umpires. The play was not reviewed. Valentine said he asked and was assured by umpires that the ball had clearly hit the railing above the fence.
Duane Below (2-0) got one out for the win — even though Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he wouldn’t be available — in a game that lasted 4 hours, 45 minutes. Cabrera had five RBIs.
“You don’t see those kinds of games at this level very often,” Avila said. “There’s really no rhyme or reason or explanation for it.”
Nick Punto and Dustin Pedroia hit RBI singles in the 11th to give Boston the lead, but it didn’t hold up. Adrian Gonzalez homered earlier for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox and New York Yankees are both 0-3 — the first time that’s happened since 1966, according to STATS LLC.
Detroit beat the Red Sox 3-2 on Thursday and 10-0 on Saturday. The Tigers seemed on their way to another rout when Jhonny Peralta’s three-run double in the first inning gave them a 4-0 lead, but starter Max Scherzer couldn’t hold it.
Scherzer allowed seven runs on eight hits in 2 2-3 innings, but Boston’s Clay Buchholz wasn’t much better. He allowed seven runs and eight hits in four innings in what was his first start since June because of a stress fracture in his back.
Buchholz had gone 42 consecutive starts since the beginning of 2010 without allowing more than five earned runs.
Detroit reliever Daniel Schlereth allowed a two-run homer to Gonzalez on the first pitch he threw after coming on in the sixth. That gave Boston a 9-7 lead, and Vicente Padilla gave Boston four scoreless innings of relief after replacing Buchholz.
The 34-year-old Padilla kept the powerful Detroit lineup off balance, at one point lobbing consecutive pitches of 54 and 52 mph on the stadium gun to Fielder in the seventh.
Punto made it 10-7 with an RBI infield single in the ninth, but Jackson and Brennan Boesch led off the bottom of the inning with singles and Cabrera tied it.
“Our guys played a hell of a game,” Valentine said. “We had a walk-off loss on opening day, then got beat 10-0 and were down 4-0 in the first inning today, but we fought back and took them 11 innings.”
NOTES: The Tigers placed RHP Doug Fister (strained left side) on the 15-day disabled list and recalled RHP Brayan Villarreal from Triple-A Toledo, moves they announced after Saturday’s game. … Valentine went out onto the field after Gonzalez was hit by a pitch from Phil Coke in the eighth. The umpires then warned both benches, which appeared to annoy the Boston manager even more.