Mark DeRosa hit in the cleanup spot because Adam Lind couldn't. J.P. Arencibia became a late designated-hitter replacement when Edwin Encarnacion sat out. Rajai Davis played for the injured Melky Cabrera.
All three delivered on Canada Day.
Wearing special red jerseys and blue caps with the large Maple Leaf logo above the bill, Arencibia delivered a pivotal two-run single, DeRosa gave starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (8-8) breathing room with a three-run homer, and Davis had two hits, two runs and two stolen bases as the Blue Jays defeated the Detroit Tigers 8-3.
The Jays evened their record at 41-41 to start the second half of their 162-game schedule at a sold-out Rogers Centre, in front of a crowd wearing promotional red baseball caps and red-and-blue T-shirts. The 45,000 in attendance crooned the national anthem with a large flag unfurled in the outfield, chanted second baseman Munenori Kawasaki's last name repeatedly, serenaded Jose Bautista ("Jose, Jose-Jose-Jose, Jose, Jose"), even paid homage to relief pitcher Aaron Loup with a "Looouuuu" drone in the ninth inning.
"Nice to come through for the people of Canada," DeRosa said. "I thought it was awesome. Especially with us coming off a tough road trip, it was tough to get out of bed in the morning, but to get here and see the place packed out and rocking, it definitely gets the juices flowing."
Despite a 2-5 road trip to Tampa Bay and Boston, the Jays are 17-7 since June 7. The loss dropped the Tigers (43-38) into second place in the American League Central.
With Encarnacion (hamstring) a late scratch, and Lind enduring back spasms, Jays manager John Gibbons moved Davis to second from fifth in the order, Bautista to third from second, Colby Rasmus to fifth from sixth, and Arencibia from the bench (with Josh Thole catching Dickey) into the six-hole against Detroit starter Jose Alvarez (1-2).
DeRosa remained in the cleanup spot. Despite his .211 average in part-time play and a recent slump, the 38-year-old veteran has delivered an inordinate number of crucial hits. He hit the three-run, opposite-field, two-out homer in the fourth inning after the Tigers had posted their only two runs off Dickey to close the margin to 5-2.
Before the homer, Davis had singled and stole second base off relief pitcher Luke Putkonen, who pitched carefully to Bautista, ultimately walking him to get to DeRosa.
"Hitting fourth this season was definitely not on the agenda," said DeRosa, who made the score 8-2 with his fifth homer. "Like I told Jose [in the second inning], he had three balls on him … and I screamed to him he could probably take the shin guard off because they were definitely going to walk him to come to me."
With Jose Reyes and Davis on top of the batting order, the Blue Jays can intimidate a defence with formidable speed – "not exciting for the opposing pitcher," said Davis, who functions normally as a late-inning replacement for Cabrera. Davis has nine hits in his past 19 at-bats.
"Coming off the bench, the ball seems to jump on you a little faster," he said. "But when you're in there a lot, you're seeing it and 93, 94 [miles an hour] doesn't look as fast."
Kawasaki, playing second for the struggling Emilio Bonifacio, provided a lead with an RBI single in the second inning.
The Jays added four runs in the third for a 5-0 lead as Reyes led off with a homer, before Davis doubled and stole third base when catcher Brayan Pena threw softly back to Alvarez following a pitch to Bautista.
"It's tough to do in the major leagues," Davis said. "I think they were sleeping a little bit and I just thought I could get to third base before he could throw. It's a risk, but a calculated one."
DeRosa struck out after Bautista drew his first walk, but with the bases loaded and one out, Arencibia hit a two-run single and Maicer Izturis followed with a sacrifice fly.