Barajas brings home win with walk-off
Catcher comes through with sac fly; Rolen, Hill go deep
TORONTO -- There was plenty for the Blue Jays to feel good about on Tuesday night. David Purcey, the first of the club's young starting pitchers to take the mound this season, turned in a respectable performance, providing some hope for a staff riddled with uncertainty.
The Blue Jays' offense overcame some early struggles against Detroit's Edwin Jackson with a late rally that culminated with a walk-off sacrifice fly from Rod Barajas that propelled Toronto to a dramatic 5-4 victory at Rogers Centre. And for what it's worth, the Jays have opened a campaign with back-to-back wins for the first time in four years.
For all the good, though, there was still one cause for concern. Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan -- after a spring filled with talk of diminished velocity and wavering command -- wasn't able to close close things out in the ninth after some eighth-inning heroics from the offense. One misplaced pitch cost Ryan dearly, but his status as Toronto's stopper remains intact for now.
"We're going to run him out there again," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He battled and got us out of the inning and gave us a chance to win."
The fact remains that Ryan blew a save in his first appearance of the 2009 season, even if it was rendered moot by the Jays' charge in the bottom of the ninth. Ryan headed to the hill with a 4-3 lead and watched Detroit's Brandon Inge send an 87 mph offering deep to center field for a solo home run. That effectively erased the four-run outburst produced by the Jays a half-inning earlier.
Ryan said he's feeling more comfortable with the mechanical adjustments he made with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg during the spring, and added that he was happy with his overall command against the Tigers. The Inge at-bat aside, Ryan did end with one strikeout, two groundouts and one of his pitches registered at 89 mph on the stadium's radar gun.
"I felt good," Ryan said. "It's just one bad pitch at a terrible time -- it stinks."
Barajas agreed that Ryan's performance was better than it might seem on the surface.
"He looked great. Unfortunately, he made one bad pitch," Barajas said. "I thought his stuff was there. He had some jump on his ball. ... Unfortunately, he just left one over the plate a little bit and elevated where Inge could extend and hit it out of the park."
Ryan was fortunate that his one mistake wasn't more costly in the end.
In the home half of the ninth inning, the Blue Jays (2-0) loaded the bases with one out against reliever Brandon Lyon, bringing Barajas to the plate with the score knotted at 4. Toronto's catcher lofted the sixth pitch he faced to deep center field, where Curtis Granderson tracked down the ball and made an easy catch.
The flyout provided ample time for pinch-runner Jose Bautista to tag up at third base and hustle across home plate, where he was greeted by a mob of his Toronto teammates. It was a satisfying conclusion for an offense that struggled to produce timely hits in clutch situations throughout all of last season.
"Early on last year, we didn't do a good job of that," Barajas said. "I didn't want that trend to start this year, too. In that situation, you want to get the run in any way possible -- it doesn't matter how it gets in. If it's a sac fly, hit-by-pitch, whatever, you want that game to end in that situation."
Ideally, the game would have ended with Ryan's signature fist pump and a save, and the Blue Jays gave him that chance with a rally in the eighth inning.
After being silenced for the first seven innings by Jackson, Toronto third baseman Scott Rolen delivered a solo homer to left field to open the eighth, cutting Detroit's lead down to 3-1. Later in the inning, with two runners aboard, second baseman Aaron Hill belted the first pitch he received over the left-field wall for a three-run blast against Lyon.
The Jays can only hope there is more of that in store from Hill, who missed most of last season after suffering a serious concussion at the end of May. Toronto believes having Hill back in the fold can provide a much-needed lift for his offense.
That was certainly the case against the Tigers (0-2).
"We were quiet there for a while," Barajas said. "But Aaron came up with the big hit and we were able to get guys on base. We did something that we didn't do well last year. We've worked on it this offseason and we worked on it this Spring Training, and I think it's really paying off."
Toronto could also use more outings like the one Purcey fashioned.
Purcey had only 12 big league starts under his belt entering Tuesday and he has been trusted with the second slot in the rotation. The left-hander showed his potential against Detroit, holding the club to three runs (two earned) on five hits with five strikeouts. Purcey issued three walks, but he limited the damage.
"He was outstanding," Barajas said. "When he did lose the strike zone up at times, he was able to regroup and start over again -- get himself where he needed to be. He was awesome. This is exactly what we need from him."
The Tigers scored one against Purcey in the third and -- aided by an embarrassing turn of events for the pitcher -- the pitcher surrendered two more in the seventh. With runners on second and third and one out in the seventh inning, Purcey attempted to intentionally walk Inge, but threw the ball wildy over Barajas, sending it bouncing to the backstop.
Purcey sprinted to the plate and the baserunners retreated, but the pitcher then threw the ball into center field while trying to nab Marcus Thames at second base. The error allowed Carlos Guillen to score, handing the Tigers a 3-0 advantage.
"I tried to make a nice, easy throw, and I launched it," said Purcey, who was able to laugh off the play in light of the win. "If I could just erase the whole play, it'd be awesome, but it happened and Hilly took care of it for me."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.