A decisive 7-2 victory over Detroit on Monday night only fueled the continued optimism within Toronto's clubhouse. It was a win that provided a welcome start to the Blue Jays' seven-game swing through Detroit and Boston, and that helped Toronto quickly move beyond its recent showing at home against Cleveland.
Over the weekend, the Indians -- mired in last place in the American League Central -- felt right at home inside Rogers Centre, where the Jays were dealt a three-game sweep. It was a disheartening end to a homestand that was critical for Toronto's chances of clinging to the edge of contention.
"We needed that series bad," said Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum, who picked up the win behind a strong six-inning outing on Monday. "Unfortunately, we didn't get it. So, we've got to come in here and play well and take care of business this whole road trip. Not just here, we've got to go Boston -- we're chasing them right now."
The Blue Jays are eight games behind the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race, with three other clubs sandwiched between them.
That's a considerable gap for Toronto to overcome with only 43 games remaining on its regular-season schedule. Still, manager Cito Gaston also maintains an optimistic outlook, having seen his club post a 25-20 record since he was brought on board on June 20.
"From my first day in Pittsburgh, one thing I wanted to see was if guys quit," Gaston said. "These guys don't quit. Sometimes, if you lose three in a row, people might seem to think that, but they're trying hard. They came out tonight and proved just what I've said about them. They never quit."
Against the Tigers (58-60), the Blue Jays (60-59) took advantage of right-hander Justin Verlander, whose struggles have included 24 runs allowed over his past four trips to the mound. Toronto notched two runs off Verlander (8-13) in each of the second, fourth and fifth frames, sending him to the showers after 4 1/3 innings.
Gaston couldn't explain Verlander's woes this season.
"He has a great arm -- I know that," Gaston said. "I know there's a lot of people that would like to have him, including me. But, sometimes that happens. He might have got away from his strength. I'm not sure."
By the fifth inning, the Blue Jays had surpassed the four runs they managed all weekend in the three losses against the Indians. On Monday night, five different players drove in at least one run and seven recorded at least one hit for Toronto, providing more than enough support for Marcum (7-5) to cruise to the win.
"You'd like to see probably about 95 games like that a year," Gaston said. "We pitched well, we hit the ball in key situations -- got some key hits -- and we played some good defense. It's something you'd like to see more often."
Rod Barajas led the offensive attack for the Jays, driving in a trio of runs on the night. In the sixth inning, the catcher lifted a 2-1 offering from Detroit reliever Aquilino Lopez deep to left field for a solo homer -- Barajas' 10th long ball of the season. The blast also snapped Toronto's streak of 47 innings without a home run.
Barajas' homer pushed Toronto's lead to 7-1, making the solo shot allowed by Marcum in the home half of the sixth of little consequence. Marcum, who scattered eight hits and struck out three, also surrendered a solo homer to Brandon Inge in the third inning, but he sidestepped any further harm.
The right-hander's performance was a positive sign for the Jays, who have watched him go 2-0 with a tidy 2.08 ERA over his past two outings. In his previous three starts, Marcum's first after coming off the disabled list due to a right elbow injury, he had gone 0-1 with an uncharacteristically high 9.82 ERA.
Marcum noted that he's been locating his fastball better, making his other pitches more effective. Still, he wasn't completely satisfied with the win over the Tigers.
"I got away with some pitches," Marcum said. "I left some pitches up and they got hit. But other than that, I felt it was OK. I located some pitches when I needed to and the guys swung the bats tonight. All in all, it turned out to be a pretty good night for us."
The kind of night that breeds optimism -- no matter the standings.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less