TORONTO – The Blue Jays took a kidney punch on Friday night and needed less than 24 hours to deliver a counter blow to the Tigers, setting up a Sunday afternoon rubber match between one-time rivals that find themselves in the throes of different playoff races.
The Jays responded to the three-spot Detroit placed on Casey Janssen the evening before with an attack on the Tigers' Achilles Heel, its bullpen, tying the game in the ninth and winning the game in the 10th.
The result absolved Marcus Stroman, brilliant once again, of a tough luck loss while at the same time robbing Max Scherzer, brilliant once again, of a deserved win.
Funny enough, it was manager John Gibbons musing to assembled media before Saturday's game that his club hadn't yet found the "magic" of a gap, extra-base hit to walk off a game at home this season.
So it was appropriate when the skipper ambled into his post-game press conference with vice-president of communications Jay Stenhouse in tow, blaring the Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic" from his mobile phone.
Nolan Reimold, a waiver pick up from Baltimore, hit a gap shot to score Danny Valencia, a trade acquisition from Kansas City, in the 10th.
"Usually you see in the first couple of weeks, when they get some place, they do something big," said Gibbons. "It's just kind of the way it happens with new faces and they both did."
The victory is important to the Blue Jays as the club weeds its way through a cluttered wild card picture and tries to remain relevant in the hunt for the American League East crown.
It's important because Scherzer is the first of three consecutive Cy Young Award winners Toronto will face (David Price on Sunday; Felix Hernandez on Monday).
It's important because the Jays' starting rotation, which refuses to fall apart despite evidence that it should, continues to get the job done on more nights than not. After J.A. Happ took a loss despite throwing eight innings of two-run baseball on Thursday and R.A. Dickey stood to win after allowing two runs in six innings on Friday, the club couldn't continue to waste fortuitous efforts.
Stroman was electric. His only blemish in nine innings was a two-out, two-run rally in the sixth. He didn't have his strikeout game on Saturday but instead relied on the groundball, getting 14 of his 27 outs that way and darn near wearing out Munenori Kawasaki over at third base.
"My sinker was really good today, probably a lot better than my four-seam command," said Stroman. "I commanded it to both sides of the plate and got a lot of groundball outs with it."
As impressive a part of Stroman's strong beginning to his big league career is his ability to bounce back after a rough start.
His three worst starts came on June 17 in New York (3 2/3 innings, two earned runs), July 9 in Anaheim (3 2/3 innings, five earned runs) and August 3 in Houston (three innings, five earned runs).
In the three starts that followed, including Saturday, Stroman's pitched a combined 24 innings and allowed only three earned runs (1.13 ERA).
Tigers' manager Brad Ausmus has a better understanding of his personnel than someone who sees the club only six times in the regular season but it was an odd decision to lift Max Scherzer from Saturday's game.
Scherzer left after eight innings with a 2-1 lead. He'd held the Jays to just four hits, striking out 11 and walking none. He'd thrown 106 pitches and had shown no signs of tiring.
Ausmus elected to send out closer Joe Nathan for the ninth. He coughed up the tying run and left with the bases loaded with one out. Joakim Soria came in to clean up the mess but the Jays got the last laugh when Reimold walked off Joba Chamberlain in the 10th.
ENCARNACION TO BEGIN REHAB ASSIGNMENT
Injured slugger Edwin Encarnacion was to be in Single-A Dunedin's lineup for its Saturday night game against the Tampa Yankees.
Encarnacion was hurt on July 5 in Oakland. He suffered a Grade-2 strain of his right quadriceps. Despite missing five weeks, his 26 home runs had Encarnacion tied for fourth-most in baseball entering Saturday's action.
In 88 games this season, Encarnacion is hitting .277/.368/.591 with career bests in OPS (.959) and OPS+ (160).
He is expected to return to the Blue Jays on the upcoming road trip, either in Seattle or next weekend in Chicago.