The crowd inside Rogers Centre roared when McGowan's effort paid off in that critical seventh-inning situation. Ball securely in hand, McGowan shifted back onto his feet and forced Thomas out at first base to quash what would've been a game-changing rally for the Tigers.
"I knew I had it," said McGowan, who smiled and rolled his eyes after his performance guided Toronto to a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Saturday afternoon. "I was trying not to get my teeth knocked out. It was a pitch where you just react."
It was a moment in which anything less could've immediately swayed the contest out of Toronto's favor. Instead, McGowan's play put the finishing touch on an impressive seven-inning showing, opening the door for the Blue Jays' bullpen to seal the team's first win at home in seven tries.
The Jays (9-9) still suffered through another tough day on offense, managing seven hits and drawing six walks, but going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Over the past four games, Toronto has gone 4-for-42 with runners in scoring position, though McGowan's outing overcame the lineup's shortcomings this time around.
"That's a big lift until we really get our offense rolling again," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "That's what good ones do, and [McGowan] is coming into his own."
McGowan (1-1), who relied heavily on his fastball against a predominantly right-handed-hitting Tigers lineup, only finished with one strikeout in his fourth start of the season. Instead of blowing batters away, the 26-year-old right-hander found a way to induce 11 outs via ground ball.
It wasn't a completely smooth outing for McGowan, who admitted that he felt better on the hill in his last start -- a loss to the Orioles on Monday. The Tigers (6-12) put at least one runner on base against the young pitcher in six of his seven frames, but he escaped a handful of tough scenarios relatively unharmed.
"They gave us a few scares, and they kept the game close," Gibbons said. "But [McGowan] can dominate, and he did that. He shut down some pretty good hitters at the right time."
To open the third inning, McGowan gave up a single to Detroit catcher Ivan Rodriguez and a double to Ryan Raburn, who watched the ball he drilled bounce off the top of the left-field wall and back onto the field. McGowan then retired the next three hitters in order, giving up only one run in the process.
In the seventh inning, McGowan once again led things off by yielding a single and double -- this time to Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen, respectively. Rodriguez cut Toronto's lead to 3-2 with a sacrifice fly, but McGowan again slipped out of the situation with his highlight-reel stop with two outs and runners on the corners.
"Damage control," McGowan said. "It seems like that's the word always used for me: damage control. I did a pretty good job of that today."
The Blue Jays eked out just enough run support to help McGowan to his first victory of the season. Toronto's Alex Rios launched a solo home run off Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman (1-2) in the first inning, and Marco Scutaro drew a bases-loaded walk in the second to put the Jays ahead, 2-0.
The game's deciding run came in the fifth inning, when Aaron Hill doubled off Bonderman and later scored on a fielding error at third by Cabrera. That production provided a slim cushion for Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan to protect in the ninth inning, but -- like McGowan -- he exercised damage control.
Ryan, who is still less than one year removed from Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his left elbow, allowed two singles in his lone inning of work. The hits were rendered moot by the closer's three strikeouts, sealing his second save and the win for the Jays.
"It wasn't the greatest inning I've ever had, but it got the results," Ryan said. "It's a lot of hard work that goes in there to get back on the mound and get in there and put yourself in that situation.
"You get that final out in a well-pitched game by Dustin and you're happy -- you're excited."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.