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Blue Jays 5, Tigers 3: Late Rally Falls Short

A late bases-loaded opportunity was mostly squandered as the Tigers dropped the first game of a four-game series.

Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

TORONTO, Ontario — A battle of the lefties to start off a four-game weekend series between former AL East rivals on a very pleasant evening by the shores of Lake Ontario saw the Tigers fall to the Blue Jays 5-3, after a golden opportunity in the eighth inning wasn't fully capitalized upon.

Tyler Alexander, who has returned from injury to once again prove useful as both middle reliever and spot starter, got the nod. He made his fifth start of the season, and first since the end of April; in July he had three long-relief appearances of three or more innings each, so that’d be about the limit of what manager AJ Hinch could expect out of him. But since two of said long-relief stints were scoreless, and in the other he gave up a solitary run, perhaps there was some wiggle-room for optimism despite a fearsome lineup of right-handed hitters for the Blue Jays.

Yusei Kikuchi’s début season in Toronto, after three somewhat-okay seasons in Seattle (and parts of eight with the Seibu Lions in Japan’s Pacific League), has been pretty lousy so far. Before today he’d had 16 starts, but none since July 5, spending time on the IL for a neck strain. He’s had flashes of goodness, including a six-inning, one-hit, no-run outing against his former club in mid-May, but there have been plenty of starts where he didn’t make it past the third inning. Toronto sports-talk radio has been pretty upset with him, for sure.

Alexander had his work cut out for him, as the Blue Jays' lineup is loaded with right-handed power. To wit, their nine-hole batter tonight, Danny Jansen, had an OPS of .880 coming into tonight, with 9 home runs in only 90 plate appearances.

The Blue Jays looked like they were about to get things going in the bottom of the first, as George Springer threaded the needle with a slow roller just past Jonathan Schoop's reach; he advanced to third on a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. double to right. But Alexander struck out Alejandro Kirk, Bo Bichette popped out to short, and Teoscar Hernández hit a sinking liner to short that Javier Baez snagged just above the dirt.

Willi Castro did get things going in the second, with a two-out solo home run to centre that hit on the top of the fence and bounced over. Still counts!

The Blue Jays countered in the third, with a Kirk single scoring Springer from second, tying the score. Earlier, Springer reached base after Báez airmailed a throw to first on a ground ball.

They kept rolling in the fourth with a two-run home run from Matt Chapman, putting Toronto ahead 3-1. Alexander's day was done after the fourth, which was about what we expected at the outset, was it not? His final line was 4 innings, 69 pitches, three runs (two earned), one walk, one whiff.

Will Vest took over in the fifth. He had Kirk at an 0-2 count with two outs and walked him, then Bichette followed with a single to right, but Hernández struck out looking to end the threat.

The sidearming Adam Cimber took over for Kikuchi in the sixth. When he comes set, Cimber's left foot points almost entirely backwards, towards second base. Very strange.

Angel De Jesus relieved Vest, and with one out Chapman hit a no-doubter solo home run to left, his second dinger of the evening, pushing Toronto's lead to 4-1.

Jonathan Schoop hit a one-out laser beam into the second deck's front row in the sixth to narrow the gap to 4-2.

Willi Castro made his second leaping catch in deep centre in the seventh. It looked like he had trouble judging exactly where the fence was; indeed, at the Dome, the “warning track" is exactly the same texture of artificial turf, but just painted a different colour. So, unless you're looking down — and if you're tracking a fly ball, you're not — it's hard to determine if you're actually close to the wall or not. They oughta fix that in their renovation (more on that below).

De Jesus departed with one out and runners on the corners in the seventh, in favour of Jose Cisnero. What did Everyday José end up doing? Coaxing a perfect ground ball for a double play from Hernández, that's what. So good to have that guy back.

Victor Reyes greeted Yimi García in the eighth with a double off the wall in right, and Robbie Grossman followed with a popup to shallow left; the shortstop and left fielder collided and the ball fell to the ground. Báez walked on four pitches to load the bases for Miguel Cabrera as a pained groan was emitted from the crowd. Cabrera flew out to right, not deep enough to score Grossman (and a solid throw from Springer would have cut him down anyway). Haase followed and fouled off a ton of pitches, and eventually hit a fly ball further than Cabrera's to right, scoring Grossman and closing the gap to 4-3.

At this point the Blue Jays brought in their closer, Markham's own Jordan Romano, to face Jeimer Candelario. He grounded out to second to end the inning on the first pitch, and that was that.

Alex Lange pitched the eighth and he put the first two runners on with an errant throw from Candelario and a walk. Again, the free baserunners would bite them. Santiago Espinal bunted the runners up a base, and a Jansen sacrifice fly to the left field corner pushed the lead back to two runs. Springer's ensuing fly ball to right-centre nearly resulted in a collision between Reyes and Willi Castro, but fortunately Reyes took over and made the grab.

The Tigers ended up going 1-2-3 in the ninth against Romano, and that was the ball game.

Let’s Talk About Jeimer Candelario

If you’ve been paying attention since the All-Star Break, you’ve no doubt noticed Jeimer Candelario has been up to some things (notwithstanding his performance tonight). Sure, he had a career season and led the league last year in doubles, which is great, but headed into the break this year his stats looked pretty terrible: in 70 games and 263 plate appearances, he was batting .191 with a meagre .570 OPS. In the six games after it, coming into today, his slash line was .400/.429/1.050 for a ridiculous 1.479 OPS, clubbing four home runs in that time.

Obviously you can’t expect Candelario to keep this up over a full half-season, but if he ends up anywhere close to last year’s slash line of .271/.351/.443 and a .795 OPS, that might make the Tigers’ front office’s decision on what to do with his contract a little trickier. He’ll be very hard pressed to convince the fanbase that he should return in an everyday role.

Notes and Notions

  • Yup, this one was brought to you from the ball yard, with the proletariat up in section 516. I’m likely attending all four games this weekend, as I am clearly a sucker for punishment.
  • Old friend Daniel Norris signed with the Tigers recently, on a minor-league contract. He had a tough year with the Cubs so far, pitching a lot of mop-up duty in the past couple of months. I really like the guy, and hope he can regain his form in Detroit and/or Toledo. Can Chris Fetter work some magic? Time will tell.
  • The Blue Jays announced today that, starting this upcoming offseason, they really want to get started on renovations to the Dome (rather than rip it down and build a new one). It’s in a great location — you really can’t beat it for convenience and accessibility, and yes, parking’s a hassle but most people take transit there anyway. I will say that the venue has come a long ways in recent years, and the Flight Deck in centerfield is a nice place to take in part of the game.
  • On this date in 1794, Maximilien Robespierre was executed. Originally from Arras in the north of France, he was one of the leaders of the French Revolution — but it looks like he took things just a little too far in pursuing his ideal French republic. I mean, when you’re one of the people in charge when something later called the “Reign of Terror” happens, that’s not a good look.