Bryan Garcia flips the script, bullpen dominates in Tigers' win against Blue Jays
Toronto — To be honest, it was a recipe for disaster.
Bryan Garcia, a career reliever — a former Tigers closer, in fact — had made just three transitional starts at Triple-A Toledo, maxing out at 54 pitches, before he was summoned to fill yet another injury-induced void in the rotation.
Against arguably the best hitting team in baseball? What could possibly go wrong?
Sometimes you just never know. Because very little went wrong for the Tigers Friday night.
Garcia limited the Blue Jays to three hits and two runs in 3.2 innings, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations, the bullpen locked down the last 5.1 and the Tigers evened the series with an improbable 4-2 win.
"It was awesome," said Garcia, who, as was anticipated, was returned to Toledo after the game. "I'm just happy for the opportunity and glad I could at least leave the game and give the team a chance to win."
Until the fourth, the only mark on Garcia was a 420-foot home run to dead center by sizzling Matt Chapman, his third home run in two games against the Tigers.
"I don't know that it's fair to say he exceeded my expectations," manager AJ Hinch said. "Because I think he's been working his ass off to get an opportunity up here. But it was certainly a welcomed performance."
Garcia, who was on a 70-pitch limit, got the first two outs in the fourth before walking Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., and Chapman. He was at 67 pitches and Will Vest had just started to warm in the bullpen. Hinch needed to squeeze one more out from him.
That didn’t happen. Raimel Tapia hit Garcia’s next pitch into left field, RBI single breaking a 1-1 tie and Garcia’s night was over.
"He challenged a good lineup in the zone, he was able to get swing-and-miss, able to get chase and weak contact," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "He made one mistake to Chapman. We were trying to go in and it leaked back over the plate...I can't say enough good things about him, asking him to step into a situation like this -- it's awesome.
"We've asked a lot of guys to do it. He's another guy who stepped up to the challenge."
On the flipside of Garcia, the offense also exceeded expectations against Blue Jays’ All-Star right-hander Alek Manoah, knocking him out of the game, literally, in the sixth inning.
After Willi Castro lined his second home run in as many days to lead off the inning, giving the Tigers a 4-2 lead, Jonathan Schoop lined one back through the box, clipping Manoah on the right elbow. He was in considerable pain and left the game.
Blue Jays reported that he suffered a bruise and precautionary x-rays were negative.
But the Tigers, beginning with a 25-pitch first inning, made Manoah work. They ended up getting seven hits off him and a lot of loud contact.
"We had some great at-bats," Hinch said. "Especially at the top of the order. We stayed disciplined enough to pile up his pitch count and we came up with some big swings."
Riley Greene and Victor Reyes, the first two hitters in Hinch’s lineup, hit bullets in the first inning, both tracked and caught in center field by Tapia. They came around again in the third inning and with two outs, hit two more rockets. This time they were rewarded – back-to-back doubles tying the game 1-1.
In the fifth inning, again with two outs and the Tigers down 2-1, Greene walked, Reyes singled and Javier Báez was hit in the upper arm – bases loaded.
Harold Castro cashed it in with a two-run single, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Castro's homer, left-handed this time after whacking one right-handed Thursday, was the last run put on the board.
Talk about your path to victory: The Tigers bullpen was oppressive for 5.1 innings, allowing just one hit with eight strikeouts.
"Our bullpen is special," Barnhart said. "They've showed that all year."
Vest, as he did Thursday, got four outs and Jason Foley pitched an impressive sixth – striking out Teoscar Hernandez and Gurriel. His sinker was hitting 98 mph.
"It was very evident to me early on how good he could be," Barnhart said. "I don't think he knows how good he can be."
Joe Jimenez was next. All he did was strike out the side in the sixth – Tapia, Santiago Espinal and Zack Collins. His four-seam fastball riding high in the zone at 96 and 97 mph.
"It's a different type of fastball," Barnhart said. "You hear the buzzword 'heavier?' He has one of the heaviest fastballs I've caught. He's not afraid to challenge you. He doesn't care who you are. He's going to take his chances with his stuff.
"That takes a lot of guts, it really does. That's what makes him good. He doesn't give a damn and he makes my job easy."
Michael Fulmer, with his multi-purpose slider dotting all quadrants of the plate, struck out two in a scoreless eighth.
Leaving it to closer Gregory Soto, who hadn't pitched in a save situation since July 12. With the help of an outstanding play by Candelario at third base to retire Gurriel to start the inning, he earned his 19th save.
With the trade deadline looming, it wasn't lost on Barnhart that he might be able to catch all those guys in a row many more times.
"The human element of things is real," he said. "You think about that, but we've put ourselves in the position to be sellers. If that was one of the last times I catch all those guys in a row like that, it's been a pleasure.
"But I don't want to put the cart before the horse. You never know what's going to happen."