The Blue Jays hitting and bullpen rescued the defence on Wednesday, in a bizarre game on a cold, grey, wet miserable afternoon at Comerica Park.
Reserve Mark DeRosa, brought in as a pinch hitter, and J.P. Arencibia drove in three runs apiece as the Blue Jays scored the last seven in the game, for an 8-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers sold more than 29,000 tickets but there couldn't have been more than 5,000 in the stadium after a 2-1/2 hour rain delay. They saw three bases-loaded walks, one pitcher (Toronto's Mark Buehrle) start a double play by deflecting a grounder with his foot, another pitcher (Detroit's Octavio Dotel) take a grounder in the midsection and need several minutes to recover, and a third (Toronto's Darren Oliver) have a ball carom directly off his elbow to first base for an out.
The Jays scored three runs in the sixth inning and four more in the seventh to overcome a 6-1 deficit, along with their own infield miscues.
In the sixth, with two aboard and one run across on Edwin Encarnacion's double, manager John Gibbons used right-hand hitting DeRosa as a pinch hitter for Adam Lind, after Tigers manager Jim Leyland replaced starting pitcher Rick Porcello with lefty Darin Downs. DeRosa hit the first pitch for a two-run double, closing the gap to 6-4.
In the next inning, reliever Brayan Villarreal entered with one on and one out, and issued three consecutive walks, the last to DeRosa to drive in a run. In his career with the bases loaded, DeRosa is hitting .350 with five grand slams. Octavio Dotel replaced Villarreal and promptly surrendered Arencibia's bases clearing drive into the left-centre alley.
In this second start for the Blue Jays, Buehrle's pitching line read deceptively – 4 1-3 innings, seven hits, six runs (five earned) – as infield defence compromised the Blue Jays again in a game delayed by rain.
The Blue Jays starting pitchers had posted a Major League-worst 6.08 ERA in seven games, before Wednesday, while the Jays have committed eight errors, half of them by second baseman Emilio Bonifacio.
With regular third baseman Brett Lawrie sidelined by a ribcage strain, Maicer Izturis is playing third base rather than to his strength as a middle infielder, while Bonifacio, a utility player in Miami, is being over-matched at second base.
The ball keeps finding them.
In the series opener, Izturis's wild throw triggered a two-run insurance rally in the 7-3 loss. Wednesday, a pair of Alex Infante drives got past him, the first for an RBI single and 2-0 lead, and in the fifth inning to instigate a four-run rally for Detroit's 6-1 lead. Bonifacio twice had Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder beat his throws to first, booted a grounder leading to an unearned run, and had a catchable bloop single drop in back of him to cap the Tigers' four-run fifth inning.
Lawrie is expected to play an extended spring training game in Dunedin today, and if his rehabilitation from the injury sustained on March 6 continues uninterrupted, he would rejoin the Jays a week from Friday for a series against the Yankees in Toronto, or a week from Monday in Baltimore. His presence would enable Gibbons to return Izturis to second base and use Bonifacio as a utility player and DH.
"I don't think the team is built on one player," said general manager Alex Anthopolous. "It's not fair to say, ok, Brett comes back and all of a sudden we're going to take off. There's no question about what he does defensively, the range, the energy he brings ... but at the same time we can't just rush him back."
Bonifacio made three errors at second base in Friday's game against Boston as the AL debut of right-hander Josh Johnson, his teammate in Miami, got derailed. In the first inning on Wednesday, the Tigers had runners on first and third and one out when Fielder squirted a seeming double-play grounder to shortstop Jose Reyes. Bonifacio appeared to make the pivot inefficiently and Fielder beat his throw to first, leaving the Jays down 1-0. A run was charged to Buehrle on a play that could have been made.
Toronto's opponents have scored the first run in seven of their eight games played to date.
During his career, Izturis had made a total of 64 errors entering this season, slightly more than half (33) at third base where his fielding percentage was .947 in 290 games, compared with .990 at second base in 246 games and .972 at shortstop in 194 games.
In the second inning, Matt Tuiasosopo's leadoff grounder in the second hopped into Bonifacio's chest and with two out, Omar Infante came to bat with a 0-for-15 record against Buehrle in his career. His liner sunk under the glove of a diving Izturis at third, another play that might have been made. Instead, Detroit led 2-0.
In the fifth, after Bonifacio blooped a run-scoring double to cut the lead in half, Infante again hit a hard grounder toward Izturis who sprawling attempt failed to stop it. Torii Hunter would drive him home for a 3-1 lead, and Buehrle was pulled after giving up a double to Miguel Cabrera and walking Fielder intentionally to load the bases.
Reliever Steve Delabar issued a pair of bases-loaded walks and Jonny Peralta's blooper over Bonifacio made the score 6-1.
Notes: Encarnacion broke an 0-for-19 streak with a double in the fourth inning. … The Jays claimed OF Casper Wells from Seattle and he will join the team in Kansas City on Friday. The Jays will likely reduce their bullpen to seven pitchers from eight, to make room. … Buehrle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey, the three starters new to the Jays rotation, remain without a win. Josh Johnson is scheduled Thursday, with heavy rain in the forecast.