TORONTO — What Vladimir Guerrero Jr. accomplished in the fourth inning seemed bound to happen, considering Detroit Tigers starter Tyler Alexander — a left-hander who is more crafty than overpowering — faced a lineup full of powerful righties.
Guerrero, just 22 years old, jumped on a first-pitch 88 mph sinker from Alexander and drove the ball 425 feet to straightaway center field. His 36th home run put the Toronto Blue Jays ahead, 1-0, to support a brilliant performance from starter Robbie Ray.
The Tigers (59-65) never got a mammouth swing, but they sent the game to extra innings and capitalized with a two-out pinch-hit single from Harold Castro. His single to left field plated Willi Castro — the free runner on second base in extras — to spark a three-run 10th inning and a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener at the Rogers Centre.
Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario added back-to-back RBI singles to push the lead to three runs. Lefty reliever Gregory Soto pitched a perfect bottom of the 10th, his second inning of work, to help his team snap a four-game losing streak.
MUTUAL RESPECT: Why Shohei Ohtani ‘would’ve been OK’ with giving up Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run
HINCH GIVES PRAISE: Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is ‘most dangerous player’ in MLB
Searching for his 500th home run, Miguel Cabrera finished 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. He is 4-for-25 (.160) with one double, four RBIs, three walks and eight strikeouts in seven games since hitting No. 499 on Aug. 11 in Baltimore.
But Cabrera wasn’t the only player struggling.
The Tigers’ offense didn’t offer much help to Alexander’s valiant effort. Making his seventh start since officially joining the starting rotation, Alexander — a former long reliever — tossed up seven innings of one-run ball. He conceded just four hits and two walks, striking out six batters.
Of his 88 pitches, 56 went for strikes.
The top four batters in Toronto’s lineup — Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien, Guerrero and Teoscar Hernandez — combined for one hit and four strikeouts across 12 at-bats when facing Alexander. He capitalized on 13 swings and misses, 10 produced by his changeup.
Alexander sent down 11 batters in a row to finish his outing.
Right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero pitched a scoreless eighth inning, and Blue Jays reliever Jordan Romano countered with a scoreless top of the ninth.
With Soto pitching the bottom of the ninth, the Blue Jays put their first two runners on via walks. Threatening to score, pinch-hitter Breyvic Valera dropped down a questionable bunt. The lead runner was cut down at third base by an aggressive throw from Schoop, who had moved from second to first base.
The next batter, Randal Grichuk, grounded into an inning-ending double play to send the game to extra innings.
The Tigers were kept scoreless for 7⅔ innings by Ray, who pitched for Detroit in 2014 and entered Friday competing with some of the best arms for the American League Cy Young with a 2.79 ERA over 24 starts. He gave the Blue Jays eight innings of one-run ball.
Ray retired the first five batters he faced before Willi Castro lined a single to right in the second inning. He worked around singles from Grayson Greiner and Schoop in the third, earning strikeouts for all three outs.
He allowed just five hits and one walk, struck out 11 and threw 72 of 109 pitches for strikes.
IGGY TALKS MIGGY: Ex-Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias opens up about Miguel Cabrera, his future
THE RACE TO 500: How the Tigers could use excitement around Miggy’s HR chase to lure Carlos Correa
Following Schoop’s third-inning single, Ray sent down seven in a row — four by strikeout — to get him to the sixth inning. To open the sixth, Robbie Grossman bounced a fastball to third baseman Santiago Espinal, who bobbled the ball, rushed his throw and pulled his first baseman off the bag.
Grossman reached safely with a single, then he stole second base.
Even with some pressure, Ray didn’t fold. He escaped the inning with strikeouts of Schoop and Candelario before Cabrera grounded out in his third at-bat of the night. (He popped out to first base in the second and struck out in the fourth.)
Hinch finds a way
The Tigers didn’t get to Ray again until the eighth inning.
But when they did, manager AJ Hinch applied pressure.
Zack Short lined a fastball into left field for a single. Grayson Greiner, hitting .239 in minimal opportunities this season, advanced him to second base with a sacrifice bunt. When Short stole third base — just his second steal in 46 games — the Tigers were in business with one out.
Short refused to test Hernandez’s arm when Grossman flew out to right field. He made a wise decision because he would have been out at home plate. But the rookie didn’t hesitate to take off Ray’s wild pitch, scampering home to tie the game, 1-1, in the eighth.
NOTEBOOK: What to expect after Miguel Cabrera left Comerica Park without his 500th home run
CASTRO TO LF: Why Willi Castro learning the outfield is important for Tigers
Ray completed the eighth and produced 17 swings and misses, recording them with six four-seam fastballs, nine sliders and two curveballs.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.