'No column for moral victories': Squandered chances, fateful sixth inning doom Tigers
Toronto — Tigers manager AJ Hinch probably said it best.
"There's no column for moral victories," he said after two long fly balls in the top of the ninth died at the wall and the Blue Jays walked off the Rogers Centre field with a 5-3 win Saturday.
"We've been playing better and these are good teams we're playing," Hinch added. "I like our at-bats right up until the end. But you want to win these games."
Near misses all day long. An unlucky carom and a runner gets thrown out at the plate, cutting short a promising-looking rally. A comebacker that should be an inning-ending double play is booted, triggering a pivotal four-run inning.
"It feels a little uphill at times," catcher Eric Haase said. "But these are the best players in the world. It's unrelenting and unforgiving and you give extra outs here and there, you just miss balls, it's part of the game.
"But the good teams do that fewer and fewer and that's the big difference."
Teoscar Hernandez provided the killing blow, launching a 2-2 cutter 424 feet over the wall in center, a three-run homer highlighting a four-run sixth inning.
"Middle-middle cutter," said veteran reliever Derek Law, a former Blue Jay who had a rough debut in the Old English D. "I overthrew it. I tried to make it better than I needed to."
All four of the runs were unearned. That's 12 unearned runs against the Tigers in the last five games.
"As we've said for three straight days, extra runners, extra outs against these guys is dangerous," Hinch said.
Law drilled Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the hand with a 1-2 sinker at 97 mph. Then he booted a routine comebacker from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., which loaded the bases with one out.
"It took an extra skip off my glove and then I couldn't grasp it enough to make the play," Law said. "It all unraveled pretty quickly, which is unfortunate, obviously."
After a sacrifice fly by Bo Bichette, Hernandez locked onto the 92-mph cutter from Law and put it in orbit.
"You keep giving good teams extra outs and runners on base in front of the heart of that order, it's a lot to deal with," Haase said. "Then one pitch changes the ballgame."
Still, while they may grouse about the unclean play, the Tigers can also lament scoring just twice in that fifth inning, when they banged out three hits with a walk and a hit batsman.
Not capitalizing on golden scoring chances isn't much different than giving extra scoring chances.
The fifth started started with Haase and Robbie Grossman ripping singles off Toronto starter Ross Stripling. The threat was almost doused with one pitch. Stripling’s first pitch to Jonathan Schoop was high and tight and it seemed to hit off the knob of the bat.
Schoop, though, stood at home plate shaking out his left hand, saying the ball hit him. The call on the field was fair ball, which the Blue Jays turned into a 1-5-3 double play. The Tigers challenged and indeed, replays confirmed the ball hit Schoop.
A rare good break for the Tigers. With the bases loaded and no outs, Kody Clemens tied the game at 1 with a sacrifice fly. Right-hander Adam Cimber took over for Stripling and Riley Greene smacked his first pitch into the right-field corner — RBI double, sending Schoop to third.
Victor Reyes walked, loading the bases again but the Tigers would come up empty.
Cimber made an errant pickoff throw to third base and Schoop tried to score. But the ball caromed off the side wall back to third baseman Matt Chapman who made a quick recovery and threw Schoop out at the plate.
"Totally unlucky and Matt Chapman," Hinch said. "Two bad things not to have on your side."
Clemens flew out to the wall leading off the ninth against Jays closer Jordan Romano. Greene singled and with two outs, Javier Báez drove one to wall in left, maybe a foot from tying the game.
"There's going to be balls hit hard and they're going to be caught," Greene said. "It's baseball. It's the sport we play. That's what we signed up for. It's definitely frustrating, not winning. But we're going to show up tomorrow and try our best again."
While one former Blue Jay struggled, another was stout.
Tigers starter Drew Hutchison delivered his best performance of the season. Once upon a time the Opening Day starter for the Blue Jays, he allowed just one run and two hits over five innings — despite pitching on a sore ankle.
"It's something that happened yesterday, but I don't think it will be an issue going forward," Hutchison said. "I gave everything I had today. I went out there and executed some really good pitches."
Hutchison attacked the fierce Blue Jays lineup predominantly with four-seam fastballs. He threw 32 of them in a velocity range of 91 to 95 mph. More importantly, he was keeping them on the edges of the strike zone.
He was able to induce double-play ground balls after walking a hitter in the second and fourth innings. He got a strikeout-caught stealing double play to get out of the first, with Haase throwing out Gurriel.
"That was huge," Haase said. "We need starting pitching bad and for him to eat five innings for the pen was incredible. He was throwing everything he had today — up, down, moving the heater around."
The Tigers did more positive things Saturday than negative. But as Hinch said, there is no column for moral victories.