'We came here to play hard': Tigers rally in the 10th to beat Jays, end 4-game skid
Toronto — You can knock a lot of things about these Tigers, but any knock against their resiliency, their battle level, their ability to flush a bad performance and move on to the next with enthusiasm is disingenuous and uninformed.
After blowing an eight-run lead in the final four innings Thursday and being swept at home by the Angels, the Tigers walked into the Rogers Centre and scored three times in the 10th inning to beat the Blue Jays 4-1, snapping a four-game losing streak.
"Every day is different," said Hittin' Harold Castro, who came off the bench with two outs in the 10th and slapped the first pitch he saw from reliever Trevor Richards into left field, scoring free runner Willi Castro from second base and breaking a 1-1 tie.
"You have to be able to push that bad day away and come here and play hard," he said. "That's what we did. We pushed away (Thursday), we know we had a hard day, but that happens sometimes. We came here to play hard tonig'ht and win a game."
Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario followed Castro with RBI singles.
"To help your team win a game with just one swing, that feels amazing for me," Castro said.
Speaking of resiliency, Gregory Soto, the Tigers' unnamed closer, stranded the free runner in the bottom of the 10th to secure the win.
Not only did he regroup from giving up a game-winning grand slam to Jo Adell on Tuesday night, he had to walk a tightrope in the bottom of the ninth just to get the game to the 10th.
"Just gathering himself in the ninth was big," manager AJ Hinch said. "He really created his own mess there."
Soto walked the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth, but got a reprieve. Schoop, just moved from second to first, got a superb read and jump on a two-strike sacrifice bunt attempt by pinch-hitter Breyvic Valera.
"When they took (Alejandro) Kirk out, they weren't doing that to hit, because Kirk can really hit," Hinch said. "They're doing that to bunt. But with two strikes, it was pretty gutsy to be in there that close. That's just Schoop being athletic and challenging the play and not being afraid to make a mistake.
"That's as close to the batter as I've ever seen a first baseman play."
Schoop, who charged hard, not only made a diving stop, he got up and threw out the lead runner at third base.
"That play to cut down the lead runner was enormous," Hinch said.
Soto got the next hitter, Randal Grichuk to bounce into a 6-4-3 double-play — the fourth of the game for the Blue Jays.
"We have not been our best at turning double-plays and it's going to be a point of emphasis as we get better as a team," Hinch said. "Tonight we showed how taking outs away from a team and not giving outs to a team is critical."
The bulk of this game featured a chess match between two left-handed pitchers who went about their craft in very different ways.
Former Tiger Robbie Ray punched out 11 hitters and allowed five singles in eight bravura innings. He got Miguel Cabrera out three times, two weakly-struck balls to the right side and a three-pitch strikeout. Cabrera went hitless in five at-bats.
With his power fastball and slider combination, Ray got 17 swings-and-misses and 21 called strikes (15 with his four-seamer).
The Tigers nicked him with some small-ball in the eighth. Zack Short, who made two sparkling defensive plays in the game, slapped a single to left. A sacrifice bunt by catcher Grayson Greiner moved him to second and then Short, with a massive jump off Ray, stole third base.
"You have to be able to get to third base in different ways to score," Hinch said. "We had such a hard time advancing runners against Robbie Ray. The punch out was in effect tonight. He's been punching out guys all year.
"But doing something positive to get into scoring position and then getting to third base created some energy."
Short couldn't tag and score on a shallow fly ball to right field by Grossman, largely because right fielder Teoscar Hernandez threw a seed to the plate. No chance. But two pitches later, Short scooted home on a wild pitch, tying the game at 1-1.
"If we just stand at second base and don't risk that out -- I know we hate making outs on the bases — but if we don't risk something, we don't get the benefit of scoring on the ball in the dirt," Hinch said.
As for Alexander, who went a career-high seven innings, he reconnected with an old friend Friday night.
His cutter has become his weapon of choice this season, but the more he leaned on that pitch, the more he lost the feel for a pitch that helped him get to the big leagues – his change-up.
"I have to think two different things, mechanically," Alexander said. "It's really two different mind-sets...But the change-up was good last week and it was really good tonight. "
But facing an all-right-handed Blue Jays lineup, one that’s produced 145 home runs – he staged a timely reconciliation with his change-up.
In his seven innings, he threw 22 change-ups to great effect. He drew 16 swings with it, 10 of them were misses. There were four put in play, all ground-ball outs, one by Grichuk with two on in the second inning, was banged into a fast 6-4-3 double play.
The Blue Jays countered the change-up in the fourth inning by trying to keep him from throwing it. They started attacking first pitches. Vladimir Gurrero, Jr., ambushed a two-seamer to lead off the fourth inning and blasted it 425 feet into the center field seats — his 36th home run.
But Alexander finished by getting 11 straight outs.
"I can't say enough good things about Tyler," Hinch said. "He did everything we could have asked and more against that lineup of all right-handed hitters and some really dangerous at-bats."