Tigers touch Jays 'pen for 2 runs to spoil J.A. Happ gem
Austin Jackson usually covers Comerica Park's spacious centre field with calming ease, rarely leaving his feet or having to dive for a ball.
When Anthony Gose lifted a fly to right-centre with a man on second in the 10th inning, Jackson realized right away he would need a little extra effort to catch this one.
"It was one of those situations where if that ball drops, he's probably going to score. I knew in that situation I probably had to attempt to dive," Jackson said. "I knew it was going to be close."
Jackson's spectacular diving catch kept the game tied, and his Detroit Tigers eventually won it on Alex Avila's RBI single with two outs in the 11th. The 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays gave the Tigers a three-game sweep and left them only 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.
"I haven't dove too many times. I probably could count on one hand," the speedy Jackson said. "I knew I had to get on my horses a little bit."
With runners on first and second in the 11th, Avila singled to right off Chad Jenkins (0-1). Gose played the ball on a hop and couldn't throw out pinch-runner Quintin Berry at home.
Joaquin Benoit (3-3) got the win. Justin Verlander struck out 12 in nine innings for the Tigers.
Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera left in the second inning because of right ankle soreness, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he expects Cabrera to play Friday, possibly as the designated hitter.
J.A. Happ took a shutout into the eighth inning for Toronto, but the bullpen couldn't hold a 2-0 lead. Happ left the game after walking Avila with one out, and Jackson singled off reliever Brandon Lyon. After Omar Infante flied out, Darren Oliver came on to face pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch and allowed an RBI single.
With Prince Fielder batting, Oliver threw a wild pitch that allowed Jackson to score from third and tie the game at 2.
Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run homer off Verlander in the fourth.
Happ allowed a run and four hits in 7 1-3 innings. He walked three and struck out seven.
Verlander allowed four hits and two walks in his first start against the Blue Jays since he threw a no-hitter at Toronto last year. With Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia still recovering from injuries, the Blue Jays looked overmatched at times against last year's American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner. Verlander struck out Rajai Davis on three pitches to start the game and caught Adeiny Hechavarria looking with a sweeping breaking ball in the third.
Colby Rasmus was in an 0-for-26 slump when he hit a single to right to start the fourth. Encarnacion followed with his 33rd homer of the season.
Toronto has scored fewer than four runs for seven straight games. Jackson's terrific catch in the 10th — he secured the ball in the palm of his glove — gave the Tigers a little more time to score their third run.
"He made a great play," Gose said. "I didn't think he was anywhere near it and he came out of nowhere."
Jackson had been playing Gose a bit toward left-centre, meaning he needed to run even farther to make the catch.
"He's made some great ones since he's been here. That's one of the best ones I've ever seen him make," Leyland said. "I thought there was no chance. ... I said, 'Oh, my God, that's in the gap.' All of a sudden, out of nowhere came Austin. To me, that's one of the best catches he's made, probably because of the situation."
Jhonny Peralta led off the bottom of the 11th with a single, and Delmon Young hustled down the line on a grounder to third, beating the relay to first to prevent a double play. Berry ran for Young and stole second before Jeff Baker walked. Andy Dirks struck out, bringing Avila to the plate.
Happ, acquired by the Blue Jays from Houston last month, was the third straight left-hander to start for Toronto this series.
Verlander struck out the last two hitters in the sixth and then struck out the side in the seventh. His final strikeout was against Kelly Johnson in the ninth, giving Verlander 1,407 and moving him ahead of Jim Bunning for fifth place on Detroit's career list.