DETROIT -- Up until the ninth inning, Toronto Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez was practically flawless, with 12 strikeouts and just one hit on 93 pitches through eight innings. He was throwing absolute gas, and the Detroit Tigers, trailing 2-0, didn’t have any answers.
“Oh my god. Unbelievable,” slugger Miguel Cabrera said after the game, lauding the opposing starter’s fine performance through the first eight innings. “Wow. Very impressed. Very impressed.”
But then, shortstop Jose Iglesias hit a leadoff single off of Sanchez in the ninth and something changed. The mood shifted and suddenly the 23-year-old flamethrower, who previously seemed unhittable, didn’t seem that way any longer.
“After Iglesias got that hit, the energy went through the roof,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
After a called strike on the first pitch, Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna buzzed him high and inside, forcing the former Triple Crown winner to jerk himself out of danger and drop to the dirt. He didn’t look happy afterward.
Ausmus turned to bench coach Gene Lamont and said: “If it ticks Miggy off, Osuna may be in trouble.”
Ausmus was right. Cabrera insisted after the game he wasn’t angry, but he did make Osuna pay, ripping a game-tying double to center field that knotted the score at 2-2.
“In the big situations, Miggy’s locked in already,” left fielder Justin Upton said. “You buzz him, and I think he becomes a little more locked in. He came up big for us.”
Upton, who extended his hitting streak to five games, also was a key contributor with a leadoff single up the middle to set the table in the 10th inning. A walk and another bunt loaded the bases. The crowd was on its feet at Comerica Park when Kinsler singled through the hole at short, emptying the dugout, igniting the stands and sealing the Tigers’ fifth straight victory, 3-2, with the eighth walk-off hit of his career.
“How do you describe it? Any way you want. Excitement. Joyful. Happy. ‘Stay fair,’” Kinsler said of the thoughts racing through his mind as he was engulfed by teammates in celebration.
For as dire as things seemed for the Tigers just a few weeks ago, they seem equally optimistic now. Frustration has been replaced with confidence. Dread has given way to belief. And dispiriting losses have taken a backseat to comeback victories.
“Guys are excited around the clubhouse. We’ve won some ballgames. Just the atmosphere around the clubhouse has been exciting. I’m enjoying it so far,” said reliever Bobby Parnell, who also played a critical role in the win.
Despite a rough start to the ninth inning, including a gaffe in which he fielded and then accidentally spiked the ball, allowing Darwin Barney to reach on a fielder’s choice, Parnell gained steam -- and, from the looks of it, confidence. He fanned both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and got Russell Martin to fly out to escape a bases-loaded jam.
Parnell, the former Mets closer who was recently recalled from Triple-A Toledo, proved something to his teammates and the coaching staff with that gritty outing.
“That was huge. Bobby was a closer. He’s pitched in big situations and we trusted him in that situation. It’s very rare to get out of that situation, and he did. To keep the lead at two made us feel like we had a shot,” Upton said.
Starter Matt Boyd also was solid for a third consecutive start, though he exited the game in the sixth inning with a quickly escalating pitch count. Shane Greene gave up a run, but the Tigers were satisfied with what he showed in another relief appearance. Justin Wilson pitched well.
And, most importantly, the offense eventually produced with the game on the line.
Toronto almost shut out the Tigers, but the team isn’t going down easy anymore. Just like the mood in the dugout after Iglesias’ rally-inspiring hit, things feel different now in Detroit.