Toronto third-base coach Brian Butterfield watched the baseball drop onto the turf and raised both hands, motioning for Clayton to hold up. The Jays' shortstop ran right through the stop sign, though, and headed for the plate.
"I had pretty much made up my mind," Clayton said with a slight laugh, following Toronto's 2-1 victory over Detroit.
The crossed signals ended up working in Toronto's favor, leading Detroit first baseman Sean Casey to cut off the throw from right fielder Gary Sheffield. Clayton scored easily, providing the Blue Jays with a slim margin that turned out to be just enough to back an impressive outing from starter Josh Towers.
Standing at his locker after the win, which allowed Toronto (7-5) to split the four-game set against Detroit (7-5), Clayton was able to smile about the play, given the result. He admitted that he didn't see Butterfield's call until he was well beyond third base, though.
"I had my head down," Clayton said. "It wasn't hit extremely hard. It was in the air for a minute and I got a good jump. I knew it was going to fall in, so by the time I got to him it was too late."
While Sheffield was chasing down the the baseball in right, Casey turned to see if Butterfield would risk sending the baserunner to the plate. A run in that situation would've been crucial, considering the Tigers and Jays were deadlocked at one run apiece in the midst of a pitchers' duel.
"You'd be surprised," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Those infielders, if they have enough time, they'll look at that third-base coach. If the guy's doing something early, that'll help make the call for them and they'll cut that ball off. I don't know if he was looking."
"I was looking," Casey said. "Butterfield had put his hands up. The ball was a little to my right, so I cut it, and when I looked home, Clayton was right there."
Afterward, Clayton discussed the decision with Butterfield, who said he wanted to stop the runner because Sheffield reached the ball fairly quick. It didn't help that, in the second inning, Toronto's Lyle Overbay was thrown out at home plate to end the inning.
"We've had a couple guys thrown out at the plate," Clayton said. "That makes you a little hesitant, but it worked out."
The run sealed the victory for Towers (1-1), who hadn't earned a win out of Toronto's rotation since May 14, 2006. The right-hander, who went 1-9 with a 9.11 ERA in 12 starts last season for the Jays, gave up one unearned run on three hits with four strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings against the Tigers.
Jays reliever Shaun Marcum picked up the first save of of his big-league career after setting the Tigers down in order in the ninth. Marcum was pressed into duty due to a worn-down bullpen, and the loss of All-Star closer B.J. Ryan, who landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left elbow on Sunday.
The lone run that Towers allowed came in the first inning. With Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson on second base, Towers turned and fired a pickoff attempt toward Clayton. The throw was wild, sending the ball rolling into center field as Granderson made his way all the way across home plate to give Detroit an early 1-0 advantage.
In the second, Towers made a mental mistake that could've also been damaging. With Casey on first and only one out, the starter gloved a grounder off the bat of Marcus Thames, but Towers didn't attempt an inning-ending double play. Instead, the pitcher forget how many outs there were and simply retired Thames at first.
"That's embaressing," Towers said. "You can make physical mistakes, but you can't make mental mistakes like that."
It was another miscue that wound up working to Toronto's advantage, though. Towers, upset with himself, struck out Brandon Inge to end the inning and began focusing more pitch to pitch. Including Thames, Towers set down 12 batters in a row and 16 of the last 18 hitters he faced.
"After that [mental lapse], I think I just locked in on every pitch like it was the only pitch that mattered," Towers said.
"It's been a long road for him this last year," said Gibbons, who thought Towers looked a lot like the pitcher who won 13 games in 2005. "He did it the right way today. That should go a long way toward building his confidence."
The way Towers settled in allowed Toronto's offense time to regain the lead against Detroit starter Nate Robertson (2-1), who gave up two runs over seven innings. Jays left fielder Adam Lind drove in Frank Thomas with a single to tie the game in the second.
It was Clayton's sprint in the seventh inning that proved to be the difference, though.
"It's called instincts," Gibbons said, laughing.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less