DETROIT – Pin this hard-to-stomach loss on the offence, not on a brilliant Aaron Sanchez or on the bullpen. The Toronto Blue Jays managed just two runs despite facing the type of left-hander they should maul in Matt Boyd, and then squandered chances to open things up in both the seventh and ninth innings. In doing so, the Detroit Tigers managed to stay close enough to exploit a small opening against the young right-hander to tie the game in the ninth, before Ian Kinsler’s RBI single in the 10th capped a 3-2 victory Tuesday night as unlikely for the hosts as it was painful for the visitors.
“(Sanchez) did everything right, he had a chance to throw a shutout there, we had a good chance to win, we should have won,” lamented Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, “but that’s not the way baseball works.”
Certainly not, and on this night the game was especially cruel to Sanchez, who sat at 93 pitches despite a career-best 12 strikeouts after eight one-hit innings. Then Jose Iglesias opened the ninth with a “jam-shot to right” single and scored when Kinsler “kept his hands around a fastball that he shot to left,” said Sanchez, for a double that cut the Blue Jays lead to 2-1.
On came Roberto Osuna, who after a sacrifice bunt by Andrew Romine, buzzed Miguel Cabrera 0-1 before the Tigers slugger recovered to take a 97-mph heater to right-centre for a double, a great piece of hitting that knotted things up.
Osuna got the game to the 10th, but after a three-up, three-down top half, Justin Upton led off with a single against Joe Biagini, Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked and Justin Smoak tried for the lead runner at third on an Iglesias sacrifice that was late. Had the Blue Jays picked up an out at first base, they could have intentionally walked Kinsler to face Romine with a chance to turn two. Instead, Kinsler bounced a single over Josh Donaldson’s head at third to complete the comeback as the Tigers won their fifth straight.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have lost two in a row after a 9-3 stretch against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. They went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, stranded 11 men and managed just five hits in all, giving them only 16 knocks over their past four contests.
“We haven’t been the offence we know we’re capable of being,” said Kevin Pillar, who had two of the five hits, including a solo shot in the fifth that opened the scoring. “These are going to be games we look back on down the road and hopefully we learn from them and execute a little better. It’s not from a lack of care or a lack of effort, that’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s always tough when you have guys getting on base, especially leadoff hits or walks, and you’re not able to capitalize.”
Sanchez’s two-seamer had ridiculous run and his curveball broke big and sharp and fooled many a hitter, including Victor Martinez, who struck out three times against the same pitcher in a game for the first time in his career.
“Just the feel for (the curveball) was unbelievable all night,” said Sanchez, who only threw a handful of changeups because his fastball and curveball were so overpowering. “I was able to throw it for strikes, I was able to put guys away with it, overall just a really good night for myself.”
The first hit off Sanchez came in the third, when Upton opened the inning by lining a 96-mph fastball that caught a little too much of the outer third off the wall in right field.
The Tigers didn’t manage another runner until Kinsler walked with two out in the sixth, and that was all until the fateful ninth.
“He was as good as anybody can be, he shut down a great hitting team,” praised Gibbons. “I tip my hat to the kid.”
Boyd, part of the package sent to the Tigers for David Price last summer, kept the Blue Jays largely in check despite five walks over 5.1 innings. Pillar’s solo shot on a slider to open the fifth ended an 0-for-13 rut and was the first Blue Jays hit of the night.
He later singled and scored in the seventh, when Jose Bautista made it a 2-0 game with a fielder’s choice.
“Bautista had talked to me today about being aggressive up there, he’s been around me enough and understands when I’m more aggressive and I’m ready to hit I become more selective at the plate, I’m not kind of feeling my way through my at-bat,” said Pillar.
“(The homer) was a slider in the area I was looking for, and that’s how I’ve always hit, I’ve always been a reactionary kind of hitter, set a gameplan and play backyard baseball, see it and hit it. I was just trying to be aggressive.”
Donaldson walked after the Bautista fielder’s choice to put two on with one out but both Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin struck out against Shane Greene to snuff out the rally. Then in the ninth, Pillar walked to open the frame, took second when Bobby Parnell threw the ball into the ground on Darwin Barney’s comebacker and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.
Parnell recovered to strike out Bautista on a 3-2 curveball and after an intentional walk to Donaldson, Encarnacion struck out on three pitches before Martin flew out to right field.
“If we give (Sanchez) that little breathing room,” said Pillar, “maybe he gets himself out of it.”
He did not, and the Blue Jays were left to lament another wasted gem, and another win that slipped through their fingers.