V-Mart stops Tigers' slide with game-winning homer

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Victor Martinez watches his home run in the eighth inning against the Blue Jays in Toronto Saturday.

Toronto – Eventually, he finds himself in a big, late-innings at-bat. He gets a pitch. 

And often, he kills it.

Victor Martinez slammed a long, high-arc homer into the right-center field bleachers in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre, busting up a tie game, and sending the Tigers to a semi-surprising 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays.

“Even this year, he battles through ailments and he’s generally a tough out,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, paying homage to one of the game’s better hitters, who hasn’t allowed sore knees or general 37-year-old maladies to stifle his marvelous swing.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Jays 2

Batting left-handed, Martinez drilled his 17th homer of the year on a 1-2 count and 94-mph fastball from a one-time Tigers bullpen hand, Jason Grilli.

“He threw me a change-up on the first pitch, and the second was a slider,” Martinez said afterward, as music blared in an upbeat clubhouse following a pair of losses to the Jays. “They’ve been pitching everybody on two strikes with high fastballs.

“I was just trying to get low early and put a good swing on it.”

The Tigers weren’t expected Saturday to fare particularly well, given the pitching matchup. Matt Boyd arrived Friday from Triple A Toledo to take on Jays fireballer Aaron Sanchez, who drove to the ballpark Saturday with a 9-1 record and 2.94 ERA.
But it was Boyd who outpitched Sanchez. Not quite a year after he was traded to Detroit, by the Blue Jays in a high-stakes deal that brought David Price to Toronto, Boyd lasted five innings Saturday. He gave up four hits, a single run, walked two and struck out six.
“I’ve always thought he could pitch in the big leagues,” said Ausmus, explaining that Boyd’s overall package of four pitches can compensate for a fastball that runs in the low, low 90s.

“He’s not gonna dazzle you with the radar gun, so he has to learn how to pitch. But the addition of his slider has helped him.”

It wasn’t the slider Saturday as much as a slow-poke curveball that in Boyd’s mind, as well his manager’s, made the bigger difference. It was a pitch Tigers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia ordered regularly.

“Yeah, Salty kept calling for it,” said Boyd, who has been all but commuting from Toledo to Detroit during the 2016 season. “Today, I didn’t use my slider all that much. And that was OK. This (Toronto) is a good fastball-hitting team.”

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The Tigers never trailed Saturday, getting a run in the first when they loaded the bases against Sanchez and Andrew Romine was hit by a pitch, driving in Nick Castellanos.

They made it 2-0 in the fourth on Justin Upton’s leadoff double and a RBI single to center by Saltalamacchia.

The Jays got a run in the fifth against Boyd, then tied it in the seventh when Devon Travis, the former Tigers prospect who was dealt to the Jays in a trade for Anthony Gose, lined a Bruce Rondon slider into the seats in left to make it 2-2.

Martinez, though, struck with one out in the eighth, sparking the Tigers rather than the high-octane Jays with a game-changing swing as he launched his long, soaring blast into the bleachers. 

Francisco Rodriguez was commissioned to get his 24th save of the season and nailed it down with a flawless ninth, getting Kevin Pillar on a ground-out to second, Michael Saunders on a strikeout, and Travis on another grounder handled by Nick Castellanos at third.

The Blue Jays had nearly tied the game in the eighth against Justin Wilson when Edwin Encarnacion sent a mighty fly ball to right-center. But it landed in Cameron Maybin’s glove a few feet in front of the fence.

“Overall, the ‘pen did an outstanding job,” said Ausmus, giving his relievers a back-pat as Alex Wilson (scoreless sixth), Rondon (other than a bad slider to Travis), Justin Wilson (scoreless eighth, despite Encarnacion’s bomb), and Rodriguez combined with Boyd to put away the Jays on six hits.

The Tigers kept the Jays from any thoughts Saturday of a four-game series sweep. They’ll play their final game before the All-Star break Sunday (1:07) p.m. as Anibal Sanchez gets a crack against Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.    


Twitter @lynn_henning