'Surreal': Zimmermann brilliant, Stewart blasts two-run homer, Tigers take opener
Toronto — Jordan Zimmermann probably had no idea about the history he was chasing Thursday. Probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.
But he was not only making a bid Thursday to become the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day. Indians Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller did that in 1940. Zimmermann was trying to one-up him.
Zimmermann — who was out of the game when rookie Christin Stewart cracked a two-run home run to the second deck in right field in the 10th inning, sending the Tigers to a 2-0 Opening Day win over the Blue Jays — was perfect through 6⅔ innings.
"The game was going by so quick and he hadn't given anything up," catcher Grayson Greiner said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. That would have been cool. But all that matters is we got the win."
Using all four pitches, with no fastball exceeding 91 mph, Zimmermann dispatched the first 20 Blue Jays hitters on just 60 pitches. And he was one strike away from taking perfection into the eighth.
But Teoscar Hernandez reached out on a slider off the plate and slapped a ground ball up the middle. Second baseman Josh Harrison chased the ball to the shortstop side of second base and made a diving stop going to his right. But he couldn’t get up quick enough and his throw from his knees was late.
"That was a good pitch," Zimmermann said. "It was off the plate and down. But he hit a ground ball where we weren't. But overall, we got the win, that's all you can ask for."
Zimmermann finished the seventh by striking out Justin Smoak and departed — 70 pitches, one hit, no walks and four strikeouts.
"It feels good," Zimmermann said. "I had really good stuff today. My curveball and slider were really good. I kept the ball on the ground and let our infielders work. The guys behind me did a great job."
About that history, though. On the same day Feller threw his Opening Day no-hitter in 1940, April 16, Red Sox pitcher Lefty Grove was perfect through seven innings against the Washington Senators.
Zimmermann's 6⅔ innings was the longest stretch of perfection on an Opening Day start since.
"Both sides pitched great," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There were a lot of zeros up there...That was two pitchers out there really dealing, spotting the ball, getting the ball where they wanted to get it — that was a good ballgame."
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman posted five no-hit innings before Nick Castellanos ripped a single up the middle in the sixth. He gave up just two hits in his seven innings, with seven strike outs.
Tigers hitters fared worse against the Blue Jays bullpen, if you can believe it. Joe Biagini struck out the side in the eighth. Ken Giles struck out the side in the ninth. Tigers hitters struck out 15 times, including seven straight from the end of the seventh through the ninth.
But in the 10th, against right-handed reliever Daniel Hudson, Niko Goodrum led off with a double. Hudson got two quick strikes on Stewart. But the 0-2 pitch, which Stewart thought was a hard change-up at 89 mph, hung over the plate and he hit it into the second deck with an exit velocity of 108.8 mph.
"This is a day I'll never forget, honestly," Stewart said. "Opening Day, hitting a home run to put us ahead for the win, it's a pretty surreal feeling. And I know when I go back and decompress, I think it will dawn on me a little more.
"We just wanted to get the win for Zimm. He threw an unbelievable game."
Zimmermann was at just 70 pitches through seven innings — that's how efficient he was. And here's how different a pitcher he is these days — he threw 25 fastballs, 29 sliders, 15 curveballs and one change-up.
His last pitch of the outing, a 3-2 pitch to Smoak, he actually shook off Greiner's call of a slider to get to a curveball. And he struck him out swinging.
"Yeah, he's always been a fastball-slider guy," Greiner said. "But as he's continued to play this game, he's developed more pitches. His breaking ball was really good today and it makes him a little more dangerous."
After the seventh, pitching coach Rick Anderson asked Zimmermann how he was feeling.
"I was good," Zimmermann said. "But obviously I hadn't gotten up and down seven times all spring and my limit was 90 pitches anyway, and we have a fresh bullpen. Andy asked how I was feeling and I said good, but it's up to you.
"But seven up-and-downs, if you want to run them out there, go ahead. It worked out and we got the win."
Joe Jimenez and Victor Alcantara worked scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, then Shane Greene pitched a clean 10th to close it out.
The Blue Jays have now lost eight straight home openers.