Rios ends scoreless affair with single
Towers gets a no-decision after taking perfect game into sixth
TORONTO -- Alex Rios had some unfinished business to take care of before he boarded a plane to attend the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco.
The Toronto right fielder drove home the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 victory over the Indians on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
"That's a perfect way to send him off to the All-Star Game," said Jays manager John Gibbons.
Besides Rios' hit, the story of the game had been the dominating pitching performances of Toronto's Josh Towers and Cleveland's Paul Byrd. The two starters matched each other pitch for pitch during the first eight scoreless frames of the game.
It was the Jays who found a way to generate the game's first and only run, though.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Toronto left fielder Reed Johnson came to the plate. He was hitless in his first three at-bats, but some savvy advice from veteran Matt Stairs helped change that.
"Stairsy came up to me after my third at-bat and told me he thought I was a little rigid getting my foot down," Johnson said. "He said 'Try and be softer -- try and be slower.'"
Johnson made the adjustment to his stance and inside-outed a ball down the right-field line to spark the Jays' rally. The very next batter was Rios, and just in case there was any doubt about whether he'd make his evening flight, he ended things with an RBI single up the middle, past the outstretched arms of Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
"It's good to end the first half of the season with a win," Rios said. "It's even better if you win the game. It feels pretty good."
The turning point came in the top half of the ninth inning. Jays closer Jeremy Accardo was pitching to Peralta with the bases loaded and two out. Accardo fell behind in the count 3-0, but threw back-to-back strikes to work the count full. On his next pitch, Accardo (2-3) blew one past Peralta to end the threat, and the Jays' bench erupted.
"That was one of the biggest situations of the season, I think, for us as a team," said Towers. "To be able to come back from 3-0 with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and strike somebody out -- to get us back in the dugout -- it's unbelievable. I think you can tell by his reaction, and all of our reactions, how big it was."
The lack of early production from Toronto's lineup overshadowed Towers' impressive performance. The right-hander had a perfect game going until he surrendered a single to Indians second baseman Josh Barfield with two outs in the sixth inning.
Even though Towers didn't get the win, he did get to leave to a standing ovation in the top of the ninth from the Rogers Centre faithful who were waiting for a good pitching performance after seeing the Indians score 15 runs in the first two games of the series.
"The key was he was hitting his spots at will," Gibbons said. "He did a really good job of pounding them in to keep them off-balance. Where they did most of their damage yesterday was over the plate."
Towers finished by allowing just three hits while striking out four over eight-plus innings of work. He is 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA over his last three starts. Those numbers are reminiscent of his 2005 season when he went 13-12 with a 3.71 ERA.
"He's on a bit of a role right now," Gibbons said. "His last three or four starts he's been very good and he needed that, confidence wise."
To avoid any kind of jinx, Towers' teammates stopped talking to him on the bench after the fourth inning. But he says his focus was never on pitching a perfect game or a no-hitter.
"Absolutely not," Towers said. "I don't have the kind of stuff to do stuff like that. Not against a team as good as them."
The Jays (43-44) now have a three-day break before they begin the second half of the season. The team is expected to have third baseman Troy Glaus and first baseman Lyle Overbay back in the lineup which should help give them a boost.
"I'm really proud of the guys," Gibbons said. "Under the circumstances, I think we played very well and hung tough, especially after that nine-game slide we had. Since then, I think we played pretty steady ball."
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.