Blue Jays execute small-ball, beat Tiger 4-3 in extras

Stefan Luciani
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Thursday, April 13, 2023

Kevin Gausman delivered a beauty as the Toronto Blue Jays completed their sixth comeback win of the season in a 4-3 victory over the Tigers.

TORONTO – As always with home openers, whatever game follows the next day seems to feel like the little brother that can sometimes be forgotten about. 


After all the lights, glitter, and drama from Tuesday’s pregame ceremony, Wednesday had a back to business as usual feel if you will. 


And for Kevin Gausman, back to business it was for him as well. 


The righty was on the bump for his third start of the season, looking to bring some stability following an uncharacteristic start from Alek Manoah the night prior that saw skipper John Schneider forced into high leverage bullpen use in just the fifth inning.


But Gausman understood his role, and played it to perfection. 


The veteran was locked in from his first pitch delivering a stellar eight complete innings of work allowing just three runs on five hits while whiffing a season-high 11 on the night. The only blemishes on an otherwise perfect start were two home runs surrendered accounting for the three runs allowed. But even then the world blemish seems like an overreaction considering the pitches taken out were not bad pitches at all. 


Nick Maton doubled down after Tuesday night’s long ball, taking a four-seam fastball outside off the plate over the porch in right field, before Kerry Carpenter followed suit, hammering another well-placed outside fastball over the wall. Despite the home runs, Gausman was comfortable pitching his way into the eighth, showing no signs of fatigue. His fastballs were placed well and up in the zone, with his infamous splitter commanded perfectly as the punchout pitch. His velocity remained high touching 97mph into his final inning. His splitter was even better with the second-year Blue Jay generating a 58% whiff rate when going to his marquee pitch.


Unfortunately for him though, the offence was unable to provide much run support, putting him in line for the loss. That was until the bottom of the ninth where the offence was able to manufacture some runs, tying it, and sending it into extras before walking it off in the bottom of the tenth by a score of 4-3. 


The early conclusions from the starting rotation have been a bit all over the place.


Alek Manoah, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi have combined to post a 7.95 ERA across 43 innings whereas Kevin Gausman has been the only sense of consistency so far.


“He’s just been steady,” said outfielder George Springer, whose walk-off single in the 10th inning lifted the Blue Jays to a 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers. “He understands who he is.”


Schneider was quick to echo the sentiment postgame. “I can’t say enough about Kevin tonight,” he said. “He was nasty…The couple of bad pitches that he didn’t make got hit out. [But] it’s just onto the next thing. You trust that dude in any situation and you know he’s not going to get rattled.”


“Tonight was a perfect example of him just bearing down pitch by pitch.”


The Tigers jumped out ahead early with Maton’s solo shot in the fourth, before Vladimir Guerrero Jr. scored in a bizarre baserunning play that saw the Tigers called for obstruction when the reigning Gold Glove first baseman was rounding third. 


Carpenter’s two-run jack would give the Tigers a late lead that would be held until the Blue Jays put some fundamental small-ball on display. 


Guerrero Jr. singled to start the bottom of the final frame, before Matt Chapman walked to put runners on first and second. Tigers reliever Trey Wingenter seemed to be struggling with command as a wild pitch allowed both runners to advance to second and third. Daulton Varsho was then hit by a breaking ball on the foot to load the bases.


The Tigers then opted for a pitching change with no one out. Whit Merrifield was next at the dish, skying a high sacrifice fly ball to centre field to score Guerrero Jr.. The very next batter was Alejandro Kirk who then did the exact same thing, this time to left field and good enough to bring Chapman home for the tying run.


Over to the bottom of the tenth Toronto managed to hold off the Tigers in the top of the frame, as Kevin Kiermaier was first up. The former Tampa Bay Ray has quickly become a fan favourite amongst Blue Jays fans and added to his resume with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to move the ghost runner over the third.


All it took after that was a soft ground ball off the bat of George Springer up the middle to complete the comeback win – their sixth already on the young season. 


The victory is certainly a sweet one, but doesn’t overshadow the handful of baserunning mistakes made by both teams throughout the contest. Vladdy was sent home on a Chapman double in the first for what would have been the go-ahead run, but was beaten by a mile, tagged for the third out. Chapman was also caught for the final out of an inning in the sixth trying to extend a Daulton Varsho single for an extra base at third.


But this is a team that ranked in the bottom percentile in baserunning last season and has completely flipped the script to start 2023. For that, Schneider is willing to be more forgiving.


“There’s a time to force the issue a little bit and make things happen, but within that, you got to understand who may come in from the bullpen and what matchup we may have at the plate,” said Schneider. “So, yeah, maybe a little bit too aggressive at times. But I love the thought of it. I love the thought of guys trying to take the extra base.”


A five home run barrage followed by a comeback win with manufactured runs late is exactly the versatility this team was seeking this offseason with players recognizing the implemented changes in philosophy.  


“It’s just such a good group of baseball guys,” said Gausman. “There’s a lot of guys who really enjoy getting dirty and being in those big situations and they kind of feed off of that.


“They never give up,” he continued. “As a pitching staff, we know we just got to kind of keep it going and eventually it’s going to turn around. You always feel like you have a chance to win every day.”


The Blue Jays will look for the home opening series sweep over the Tigers, as Chris Bassit will look to replicate his solid start in Anaheim last week. The Tigers will respond with Spencer Turnbull who has struggled to start the campaign. First pitch goest just after 7 PM.