Jackson brilliant, but 'pen falters
Righty's solid debut, Inge's tying homer both go for naught
TORONTO -- Edwin Jackson's Tigers debut gave his new employer the kind of outing it has rarely seen over the past couple years. Brandon Lyon's Tigers debut looked all too familiar.
How they rebound from Tuesday's 5-4 walk-off defeat to the Blue Jays, one Tigers veteran from last year's struggles believes, will look a lot different than the late-inning losses that piled up last year.
"This is where we're going to need to turn the page and get a different attitude, get a different mind-set," said third baseman Brandon Inge, whose game-tying home run in the top of the ninth merely extended the game for the Jays to win in the bottom half.
"This is not what to expect during the year from anyone watching on the outside. I do, on the other hand, feel that this is more of a fluke. Last year was more of a habit."
If the Tigers hadn't blown 28 save chances last season, or lost 13 games in which they led after seven innings, Lyon's rocky outing wouldn't have brought up the same questions, even after Lyon's Spring Training struggles while he worked on pitches. Lyon wasn't responsible for any of those blown saves. He was in Arizona, closing for the Diamondbacks, but he was part of the Tigers' answer.
That's part of the history in which Lyon found himself Tuesday as he struggled to find the curveball that would put away the Jays. He tried one to Marco Scutaro and missed for a single through the middle, just past a diving attempt from shortstop Adam Everett. Then he tried one to Aaron Hill and missed on the location, allowing Hill to loft it over the left-field fence for a go-ahead three-run blast that turned what was once a 3-0 Tigers lead into a 4-3 deficit.
"There's nothing wrong with the pitch he threw," manager Jim Leyland said. "He just left it inner half, didn't get it out away from him."
When Lyon faced Rod Barajas with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, needing a ground ball or a strikeout, he abandoned the curveball altogether and went with all fastballs. He just couldn't trust his known go-to pitch.
"It just didn't feel right," Lyon said. "I hate to say it. I'm not making excuses. It just didn't feel good today."
Lyon nearly made it work, putting two strikes on Barajas and forcing him to foul off some tough pitches to stay alive. But his last fastball was enough for Barajas to send into deep left-center field, allowing pinch-runner Jose Bautista to score easily from third and send the Tigers to an 0-2 start.
"Not much of anything was working," Lyon said. "I couldn't spot the fastball or anything else."
It stood in stark contrast to Jackson, whose command and aggressiveness were everything the Tigers could've wanted in an outing that nearly made fans forget about Opening Day on Monday.
One night after Justin Verlander used 35 pitches in a four-run opening inning and was unable to get out of the fourth, Jackson set up his bullpen for what should've been a short night and gave Toronto hitters fits with 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball. Vernon Wells' double leading off the second inning was Toronto's lone hit until Scott Rolen homered leading off the eighth to put Toronto on the scoreboard.
Not only did Jackson pile up outs, he racked up strikes at an astounding ratio. He used just 40 pitches through the first four innings, 32 of them for strikes. He pumped his fastball up from 94 mph in the first few innings to 96 mph when he needed it, overpowering Adam Lind for a fifth-inning strikeout and shattering Lyle Overbay's bat on a weak groundout two batters later.
Jackson found a rhythm with catcher Gerald Laird and never let the Jays knock him off of it.
"Tremendous, absolutely tremendous," Leyland marveled afterwards. "He was everything we expected and a little bit more tonight. You couldn't ask for anything more than you got from him."
Yet after Jackson was out, after Hill's homer had erased his chance at a victory, he went from model pitcher to model teammate. As Lyon walked off the field, having retired Alex Rios for the third out of the eighth after Hill's homer, Jackson was the first to greet him.
"I'm sure as a teammate, being on the opposite side of the situation, it's a good feeling when you know your team is going to pick you up instead of complaining and whining," Jackson said. "That's not the way you play the game. I told him again when he came into the clubhouse, 'You'll be all right. Pick it up. Keep your head up.'"
Inge, whose throwing error following Rolen's homer brought the potential tying run to the plate, picked him up on the scoreboard with his second homer in as many nights, this one off Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan.
Given another inning, however, Lyon's one-out walk to Lind put him back into trouble once Rolen singled him into scoring position. Lyon (0-1) intentionally walked Overbay to set up the force play, but didn't have the pitch to get it.
The next two games of this series will tell if the Tigers have the fortitude to rebound. Winning both would give them a split heading back to Detroit for their opener. Winning Wednesday would at least erase this feeling before it becomes familiar again.
"I think that you won't see this that much this year," Inge said. "Too good of a ballclub, too good of an attitude for this to happen. And I don't expect it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.