Toronto — You better bring your hitting shoes when you come up here to play the bashing Blue Jays. On most nights, anything less than five runs is going to get you beat.
And the worst thing you can do is give a team like that extra outs. It’s like pouring gasoline on a flame.
These were part of manager AJ Hinch’s pre-series message to his team ahead of a four-game series here at Rogers Centre.
The Tigers didn’t quite get there on either front Thursday, try as they might, losing the opener to the Blue Jays, 5-3. Errors to lead off the first and eighth innings led to two unearned runs.
“We’ve got to play clean,” Hinch said. “We’re not going to win games if we don’t play clean. I said that to the players before the game. Especially when you play playoff-caliber teams — like we have with San Diego and Toronto and then Minnesota and Tampa.
“It’s going to keep going with good teams this month. And if you’re giving them extra base runners, you’re asking for trouble.”
Still, the Tigers were one big knock away from turning this game around.
Down 4-2 in the eighth inning, they loaded the bases with no outs against right-handed reliever Yimi Garcia. Victor Reyes, who delivered the game-winning hit in the ninth on Wednesday, led off with a double.
He stayed at second when a bloop by Robbie Grossman fell in shallow left after shortstop Bo Bichette and left fielder Teoscar Hernandez collided.
“You have to be super conservative down by two,” Hinch said. “But I didn’t see how far it went. I actually thought Gurriel was going to catch it off the carom. Victor has be very sure. There was nobody (at first) to run him off. No reason to be overly aggressive there.”
After Javier Báez walked on four pitches to load the bases, Reyes also stayed put on a fly ball to medium depth right field by Miguel Cabrera. He chose not to test George Springer, who possesses one of the best arms in baseball.
“He had no chance on Miggy’s ball,” Hinch said. “He’d be out by 15 feet if he went.”
Eric Haase was next and, after a gritty nine-pitch fight, fouling off four 2-2 pitches, he sent a fly ball to the track in right, deep enough for Reyes to trot home.
“(Garcia) had to go off the beaten path a little bit there because he was having trouble finding the zone,” Haase said. “I wanted to be patient and then he started filling the strike zone with everything he had against me, so that went out the window.
“I was just trying to stay alive. I just wanted to move something forward in the air. I finally got something I could handle.”
But that was the end of it. Toronto brought in closer Jordan Romano and he ended the eighth with one pitch and worked a clean ninth.
“You would’ve liked to get a little more there, obviously,” Hinch said. “Haase had a great at-bat. Just inches away from making it really interesting. But I look back and I see two errors that led to part of their scoring and we said before the series that if you give them extra outs they’re a dangerous offense.
“They are hard to keep up with offensively, let alone when you give them extra base runners.”
The Blue Jays took advantage of a Baez throwing error in the third inning, scoring the unearned run on a broken-bat dunker by Alejandro Kirk.
Then in the bottom of the eighth, a throwing error by Jeimer Candelario led to another run, on a sacrifice fly by Danny Jansen.
“We would’ve loved to push across more runs, but when you don’t you have to play cleaner than we played tonight,” Haase said.
The Tigers have eight unearned runs on their ledger over the last three games.
In between the unearned runs, it was a home-run contest between the Tigers and Blue Jays’ third baseman Matt Chapman. It ended in a tie.
Willi Castro lashed a slider from Toronto starter Yusei Kukuchi in the second inning and hit it on a line 408 feet over the wall in center. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 103.8 mph.
Jonathan Schoop homered off lefty reliever Tim Mayza in the sixth.
Chapman countered that with a pair by himself.
Lefty Tyler Alexander, making what will likely be a spot start, left 1-2 changeup up just enough and Chapman launched it 357 feet into the left field seats, a two-run shot that broke a 1-1 tie int he fourth.
“That one hurt,” Alexander said. “I threw an average pitch and he put a really good swing on it. I threw two really good pitches inside and I thought I could throw something away. I probably should’ve bounced it, but it wasn’t a bad pitch.”
Chapman homered again in the sixth off right-handed reliever Angel De Jesus.
Bottom line, though, three runs and four hits is going to be insufficient against the Blue Jays most nights against an offense that averages just under five runs a game (4.89).
“They punish mistakes,” Alexander said. “At least they did with me. Anytime I found myself over the plate they hit it hard somewhere. One through nine in their order can do that.”