Wall space wasn't reserved for Sweeney

DETROIT -- On the last day of the 2011 season, the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs by Tampa Bay when Evan Longoria hit a home run that crossed over the left-field fence in Tropicana Field through a cutout space in the wall designed to give former Ray Carl Crawford a chance to make circus catches.

On Thursday afternoon, new Red Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney hit a line drive that missed by the narrowest of margins -- a foot or two -- from passing through a cutout space in the right-field fence at Comerica Park for what would have been a go-ahead home run.

Instead, the ball struck just to the right of the cutout and caromed crazily, allowing Sweeney to take third on a triple while the tying run scored.

“I put a good swing on it,’’ said Sweeney, who went down and swept a Jose Valverde splitter that was supposed to be away but stayed inside. “I thought I got it [a home run] when I first hit it.’’

Not that Sweeney has a lot of practice recognizing home runs off his bat. Playing for Oakland, Sweeney hit one home run last season. He hit one in 2010. Since Aug. 27, 2009, a span of 681 at-bats, he has those two home runs.

Guys built like Sweeney -- he’s listed at 6-4, 225 pounds -- aren’t supposed to have the same number of home runs as lightweights David Eckstein, Juan Pierre and Nick Punto. And when it came to Pierre, Sweeney didn’t. Pierre actually had three home runs over the same span.

But on Thursday, Sweeney had reason to believe he had the distance to touch ‘em all. It will be no consolation to either Sweeney or the Red Sox, but according to ESPN Stats & Information, his drive would have landed in the grandstand at Fenway Park.

The triple, which came with the Sox down to their last out, was drama enough, pulling the Sox into a tie against Valverde, who converted all 49 of his save opportunities last season and had a streak of 51 straight saves dating to Sept. 2, 2010.

“It was huge,’’ Sweeney said of that two-run rally, which began with a double by Dustin Pedroia and single by Adrian Gonzalez and also included a sacrifice fly by David Ortiz. “It shows we’re not going to give up.’’

It also spared Sweeney from being the center of attention for another reason, the line drive hit by Jackson in the eighth that Sweeney played into a triple when he initially turned the wrong way.

“It was a hard-hit ball,’’ Sweeney said. “I took a drop-step back and it kind of tailed on me. I had to turn back around and it was just out of my reach. I couldn’t get it.’’

A brisk breeze blowing in right field posed a challenge all afternoon, he said. “Some of the balls were doing weird stuff out there,’’ he said. “Even the ball Delmon (Young) hit, a popup, took a weird dive on me at the end."

Sweeney was stranded at third when Cody Ross lined out to short, and the Tigers rallied to win in the bottom of the inning. Sweeney’s Sox debut, which also included a single off Justin Verlander, one of only two hits allowed by the Tigers’ ace, is destined to have a short shelf life. “It was nice,’’ he said, “but we didn’t win the game."