Tigers win in four acts: Moore sets tone, Mercer saves day, Candy crushes

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Toronto — A Tigers victory — 4-3 in 11 innings over the Blue Jays — in four acts. 

Act IV

They had taken a couple of solid body shots and had barely escaped the bottom of the 10th inning, but when Jeimer Candelario dunked a single into right field, moving Grayson Greiner to third base, they knew they were in position to pull this one off.

"It was pretty much chuck-and-duck there the rest of the way," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We needed Candy to swing at pitches in the strike zone ... He'll keep hitting if he stays in the zone."

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Moore works against the Toronto Blue Jays during first inning Sunday.

Candelario came into the game 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts. So, of course, Gardenhire batted him lead-off. He wanted to get him thinking about seeing pitches in the zone, making contact and putting the ball in play.

"I didn't even know I was hitting first," Candelario said. "I knew I was in the lineup but Joe (Vavra, quality control coach) asked me if I'd seen the lineup. I said no. He told me I was hitting first. 

"I said, 'What?!"

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Blue Jays 3 (11)

Candelario ended up getting five hits in the game, including a clutch, two-out, two-run double in a three-run seventh inning. How big was that hit? The Tigers had been shutout Friday and Saturday and hadn't scored in 33 of the 34 innings they played in this series.

"Five hits, pretty awesome, huh?" Candelario said. "It's just coming to the ballpark with a good attitude and not worrying about what happened yesterday. Just concentrate on the day to day and everything will take care of itself."

Candelario had been chasing high fastballs the two previous days. And Blue Jays left-handed reliever Thomas Pannone, ahead in the count 0-2 in the 11th inning, kept pumping high fastballs.

And Candelario kept fouling them off. Five of them.

"Those pitches yesterday were too high," he said. "They weren't good pitches. Today, they were lower. I like that pitch when I'm hitting righty. I can hit homers off that. He threw it in there and I battled and battled and then just took what they gave me."

Finally, he got a change-up out over the plate, stayed on it, and hit it to left-center.

Nick Castellanos, who had been 0-for-5, followed with what ended up as the game-winning single.

Though, there was some drama in the bottom of the inning. Closer Shane Greene gave up a single and hit a batter with one out. After getting Randal Grichuk to hit into a force play, moving the tying run to third, he fell behind Teoscar Hernandez 2-0.

"Greeney is so aggressive and he's our closer, so we trust him," catcher Greiner said, when asked if they considered pitching around Hernandez. "I wasn't thinking about pitching around him at all. I was thinking, let's go get him and win it right here."

Greene got back into the count and, on a 2-2 slider, he got Hernandez to hit a soft liner over the bag as second. The Tigers were in a semi-shifted defense and second baseman Niko Goodrum was able to make the catch.


But for a heady play by shortstop Jordy Mercer, the Tigers would have been vanquished in the bottom of the 10th.

"That was the play of the game," Greiner said. "That was incredible."

Daniel Stumpf was pitching. The Jays had a runner at second, speedy Richard Urena, with two outs. Pinch-hitter Freddy Galvis hit a hard drive (103 mph exit velocity) to Mercer's right. 

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Richard Urena is tagged out at home plate by Detroit Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner on a run-saving play by Jordy Mercer in the 10th inning.

"Honestly, I thought I was going to catch it," Mercer said. "Then I didn't. It popped out and then it rolled, luckily not too far away. I tried to scramble to get it."

Urena never stopped running. Candelario at third base was yelling for Mercer to throw home, but he didn't hear him.

"I could hear the crowd getting loud, so I knew the baserunner was going," Mercer said. "I couldn't see him, but from the crowd noise I knew he didn't stop. I just picked it up and threw it. Just a total reaction."

Mercer threw a one-hop strike from his knees, with not much momentum behind it.

"When the ball was in mid-air, I thought it was going to be an in-between hop," Greiner said. "I hesitated. I didn't know whether to go get it or wait back on it. It ended up being a perfect hop."

The ball was there in plenty of time and Greiner applied the tag.

"That's what I'm telling you about awareness up the middle with him and (Josh) Harrison," Gardenhire said. "It's pretty special to have those guys. They've been around, they've played a lot and they don't panic too many times.

"That's why he knew to dive and knock it down, and his throw was right to home plate. He wasn't worried about anything else. His awareness was where it should be. That was huge."

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Jimenez stands on the mound after giving up a three-run home run to the Toronto Blue Jays' Rowdy Tellez, who rounds the bases.

Act II

Of course, it shouldn't have gotten to the that point. A three-run lead was undone in three hitters in the bottom of the eighth inning.

With one out, against All-Star set-up man Joe Jimenez, Kevin Pillar singled, Richard Urena laced a ground-rule double and pinch-hitter Rowdy Tellez sent one over the center field wall -- tie game and extra innings.

"It's going to happen to the best of them," Gardenhire said. "He made a couple of bad pitches, situational pitches. You can second-guess if he should've thrown a slider. Whatever. It's just one of those days.

"Joe is a great pitcher. It's just one tough outing."

Act I

This all began with Matt Moore. Wearing the Old English D for the first time, he allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings. 

"He was fantastic," Gardenhire said. "He ate them up."

Moore, continued what has become an early habit for Tigers starting pitchers. He retired the first 12 hitters he faced and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. A one-out single by Urena spoiled that.

"I was just focused on getting ahead and staying ahead," Moore said. "Just in general, I didn't feel like I had too many lapses where I fell behind in the count."

The lefty whom the Tigers signed this winter for $2.5 million had gone through spring training using just three pitches — his four-seam fastball, change-up and curveball. On Sunday, he dusted off his cutter, which had been an effective pitch for him through his career.

"I didn't catch his last two or three outings in the spring and we were talking before the game — me, Matt and Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) — and he said we were going to work the cutter in today," Greiner said. "I hadn't even caught that pitch. My first time seeing it was in the bullpen and it looked pretty good."

It was very good. He got five swinging strikes, three called strikes and the three balls that were put in off that pitch were outs.

"The first couple of innings I wanted to just pick our spots when to use it," Greiner said. "Then I realized, it's a really good pitch so we kept using it more and more."

Most significantly, Moore used the cutter against Brandon Drury to end the sixth inning, stranding a runner at third and keeping the game scoreless.

After Urena had broken up the no-hit bid with a one-out single, he advanced to third on a two-out single by Danny Jansen. Moore then went to battle with  Drury.

He fell behind 2-0, then worked to get the count full. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Moore unleashed the cutter, and Drury whiffed on it.

"That was the best cutter of the day," Greiner said. "It was at 89 mph and it had like slider movement on it."

Moore, who ended up allowing just two hits in seven shutout innings with seven ground-ball outs and six strikeouts, explained why he didn't show the cutter until now.

"I wouldn't say I was saving it for this particular start or anything," he said. "It's just the progression of getting ready."

He said through spring he tries to establish his command on his four-seam fastball, change-up and curveball first.

"If I have a good foundation with those three pitches, then I will be able to get the cutter across, too," he said. "It has to do with the fastball and change-up being controlled pitches for me

"But I was able to get ahead with the fastball today and I was speeding up their bats a little. So (the cutter) ended up being a nice complementary pitch, whether I was behind or ahead in the count."


Twitter: @cmccosky