For their first trip north of the border since 2019, the Tigers faced the Blue Jays in the first of three in The Big Smoke. Trailing 1-0 late, they came back to tie the game and eventually push across a few runs in the tenth inning, winning 4-1 in a Friday night matchup.
Robbie Ray got the start for the Blue Jays, and his 2021 has been sensational so far. But, did you know that, in the past five years, he’s led the major leagues in strikeouts per nine innings? More than Chris Sale, more than Max Scherzer, more than Jacob deGrom. He’s only a tiny bit ahead of Sale, but he is indeed ahead of The Lanky (and Cranky) One.
Facing Ray was Tyler Alexander, who’s been building up his stamina as he’s been incorporated into the rotation. He’s also been building up his moustache, and it now has some excellent volume and fullness. I’m not sure there are any advanced stats on facial hair, but what he’s sporting rivals Ned Flanders in terms of push-broom-ness.
Alexander’s only real mistake came in the fourth inning. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. turned a sinker around and hit it out the first row in right-centre at the ‘Dome for a solo home run. Despite missing a few spots in the middle innings, Alexander’s night was terrific, spotting his changeup on the outside to an all-righty lineup and getting plenty of swings-and-misses. When he needed a change of pace, cutters in on their hands kept the Jays honest.
A solid start tonight for Tyler Alexander. pic.twitter.com/UENF6CWIHC— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) August 21, 2021
Ray was just as good, and arguably better — he struck out 11, giving up five hits and walking none. (Alright, fine, Ray was better.) For the first time this year, a Blue Jays starting pitcher threw a pitch into the eighth, and Ray did just that, going eight full innings.
However... a quintessential Hinch-esque run was scored by the Tigers in the eighth off Ray: Zack Short singled to left, just past a diving Bo Bichette, to lead off. Grayson Greiner bunted him over to second, and Short stole third easily, without a throw. After Robbie Grossman flew out, Ray uncorked a wild pitch and Short scampered home to tie the game at 1.
Jose Cisnero came on for the eighth, and got himself both into and out of trouble: Santiago Espinal led off with a single, Bichette walked, and that brought Chris Fetter to the mound. Fetter waved his magic wand, and then the dangerous Marcus Semien struck out, and the even-more-dangerous Guerrero grounded into a double play.
Gregory Soto was given the ball for the ninth, on the road in a tie game, somewhat bucking convention. He walked Teoscar Hernandez to lead off the inning on a full count, and he did the same with Lourdes Gurriel Jr., bringing Fetter to the mound again. Breyvic Valera pinch-hit for Alejandro Kirk, brought in solely for his bunting skills; he took a strike, then bunted a 100-mph fastball foul for strike two.
Bunting on an 0-2 count, and with Jonathan Schoop about 40 feet from home (he’d shifted over to first base), Valera bunted near the mound and Schoop made a sensational play to dive and grab the bunt, get up, and fire to third base to get the lead runner. Randal Grichuk then grounded into the Jays’ fourth double play of the night to get the game to extra innings, with Schoop making a great stretch at first.
Willi Castro started the tenth on second base; Daz Cameron and Short struck out. Hittin’ Harold Castro hit for Greiner and came through with a flare single to left; Gurriel’s throw was way off-line, Willi scored, and the Tigers went up 2-1 with Harold ending up on second due to the errant throw.
Grossman walked, and Adam Cimber was brought in to take over for Trevor Richards, who’d started the tenth for Toronto. Schoop hit a blooper to short right, and Harold came around to easily score, putting the Tigers up 3-1. Candelario followed suit with a just-enough single to centre, scoring Grossman and pushing the Tiger lead to 4-1.
Soto stuck around for the tenth, and I must admit I didn’t have a very good feeling about that. With Randal Grichuk on second, Kevin Smith struck out on a nasty slider, Espinal grounded-out to short, and Bichette flied out to centre to end it. So much for my hunch!
The second game of the series starts at 3:07 EDT on Saturday.
Let’s Talk About One-Kneed Catching
Alejandro Kirk of the Blue Jays kneels down on one knee to catch. This might steal you the occasional strike, but the disadvantage is that it gives you less mobility. Ray’s wild pitch that scored Short and tied the game went right between Kirk’s feet; he couldn’t move well enough to his left to corral the pitch in the dirt and prevent it from going past him. On the Jays’ broadcast, colour-guy Buck Martinez and studio-guy Joe Siddall (both former major-league catchers) bemoaned the one-knee approach; Jim Price has done likewise in the past on Tigers’ broadcasts many times. Martinez could barely hide his disgust, and I can see why.
Notes and Stats
- Jays rookie Kevin Smith got his first-ever major league hit, a single. Congrats, sir.
- Over their past 90 games, the Tigers actually had one more win than the Blue Jays did, coming into tonight. Mind you, they play in vastly different divisions in terms of talent, but a win’s a win, right?
- The dome was open tonight in Toronto.
- On this date in 1910, Finnish architect Eero Saarinen was born. Not only did he have an affinity for double vowels, he designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I’ve been up there (a strange elevator takes you to the top), and it’s quite the thing.