Detroit — It was a baseball game that doubled as an international leap-frog contest Sunday at Comerica Park.
And when the back-and-forth, over-the-top antics had subsided, the Tigers had a 6-5 victory and a series victory against the Blue Jays, whose Canadian fans helped Comerica Park to one of its heaviest attendance series of the year.
The Tigers cobbled together their winning run in the 11th inning — minus a hit — when Miguel Cabrera got a walk-off RBI on a two-out, 3-2 pitch from Lucas Harrell that sailed wide of home plate. It was part of a three-walk inning, spiced by Jose Iglesias’ sacrifice bunt, and aided by Josh Donaldson’s error at third.
“Two in a row,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose Saturday clubhouse address was one of the weekend’s big newsmakers, not that Ausmus was acknowledging it, or explaining it, or implying that his closed-door sermon had a single thing to do with Saturday night’s 11-1 thumping of the Jays or with Sunday’s comeback.
“But,” he said, thinking about 72 games yet staring at the Tigers, “we’ve got to chip away.”
That’s what the Tigers did Sunday. They were down, 3-0, in the first, then tied it a half-inning later. They went ahead 4-3 in the fourth, were down 5-4 in the fifth, tied the game on Martinez’s blast, and won it with their Lego-like, 11th-inning construction.
It began when Alex Avila, who apparently has microscopes in his eyes, turned an 0-and-2 count against Jays left-hander Jeff Beliveau into a classic Avila walk.
Iglesias pushed Avila to second on a sacrifice bunt. Harrell arrived to pitch to Ian Kinsler and struck him out, leaving matters to Nick Castellanos. He snapped a grounder over the bag at third. Donaldson grabbed the ball, cranked for a throw to first, but had the ball pop from his hand for an error.
Justin Upton was next. And the next batter to walk.
Up came Cabrera, who already had a single, a sacrifice fly, and a line-out to short. He got into a 3-1 count, which was followed by a called strike and a 3-2 foul. Harrell tried on his final pitch to get Cabrera with a fastball that wasn’t close. Avila pranced home with the winning run.
“We’ve got guys who’ve been in these situations,” Ausmus said, speaking of the picky at-bats Avila, Upton, and Cabrera put together in the 11th. “It’s easy for them to calm their nerves and take what a pitcher offers.”
The Tigers tied Sunday’s game in the eighth when J.D. Martinez reached for an 0-and-1 change-up from Danny Barnes and lofted it against a yellow strip atop the right-field wall, all before it bounded back onto the field.
The hang-up is it wasn’t initially clear to umpires that it had qualified as a homer versus a double, which was the original ruling after Martinez steamed into second base.
A replay sent Martinez across home plate with his 16th homer of the year and second in two games.
Another fat crowd (37,173) was seemingly as thick with Jays fans from across the Detroit River as there were Tigers customers digging into Sunday’s punches and counter-punches.
The Jays got three first-inning runs against Anibal Sanchez, thanks to back-to-back home runs from Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak. The Tigers got three in their half of the first.
Kinsler’s leadoff walk, an infield single from Castellanos, a lightning double to the left-field corner by Upton, and a pair of sacrifice flies from Cabrera and J.D. Martinez made it an instant 3-3 game.
The Tigers got a go-ahead run in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Alex Presley (misplayed by Jays outfielders) and James McCann. The Blue Jays jumped back on top, 5-4, a half-inning later on a single and Jose Bautista’s line-drive homer into the left-field bullpen.
Sanchez lasted six innings and was so-so on a day when his fastball rarely got above 90. He was slapped for nine hits and five runs, while walking none and striking out three.
“I think I feel a little bit less with the speed of the fastball,” Sanchez said. “But probably next outing will be different. I don’t pay much attention (to radar guns).”
Sanchez said the greater factor Sunday were Blue Jays hitters who tend to slam pitches of all speeds and varieties.
“All those guys are power hitters,” he said. “If the ball’s not in the right spot, it’s (a home run) gonna happen.”
No disagreement in the manager’s office.
“A couple of balls were up that they hit, but he still got through six innings,” Ausmus said. “He made some good pitches. But he left three balls up.”
The Tigers bullpen was beyond excellent Sunday. Daniel Stumpf, Alex Wilson, Bruce Rondon, Warwick Saupold, Shane Greene and Justin Wilson, put away the Jays during the next five innings, minus a run, with the Jays collecting a lone single.
The Tigers were to fly to Kansas City later Sunday evening for a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
They are 41-49 with their bounce-back against the Jays, which followed an ugly loss Friday and served as motivation for Saturday’s meeting, details of which will remain a manager’s secret for the rest of his natural life.
And that’s fine, as far as the Tigers are concerned. The weekend wasn’t about a meeting. It was about baseball games. Back-to-back victories were the product of what happened on a field, they insisted, with clubhouse dialogue far down on any list of relevant events.