Tigers' late lead falls by wayside

Tigers can't hold Bonderman's lead

TORONTO -- The game lasted more than 3 1/2 hours. The bottom of the eighth inning seemingly lasted hours by itself. Yet the hits came in a flurry.

Twelve Blue Jays batters came to the plate in the eighth inning. Eight of them scored. Four Tigers pitchers couldn't stop the damage, forcing manager Jim Leyland to make three pitching changes, one of them in the middle of an at-bat, and call on a closer for what he hoped would be a five-out save.

Those aren't moves Leyland normally makes. Watching a three-run lead turn into a 10-5 Tigers loss will do that.

"When it's over, as quick as it was, it almost feels surreal, like, 'What just happened?'" said Todd Jones, who took the loss. "You look up on the scoreboard and you're reminded."

Normally, the moves would've worked. Until recently, that's how the bullpen had done. But this inning, this stretch from the bullpen, was far from normal.

"I don't think it's any easier," Leyland said, "but it is what it is. If you're asking me whether I question myself on any moves I made, no. I felt like I had to get a strike."

The move he referred to at the end was his shift from setup man Fernando Rodney to closer Jones. Ideally, Leyland would have Rodney finish the eighth and Jones enter before the ninth. On Friday, he entered with one out in the eighth, a 1-0 count and the go-ahead run at the plate.

The one reliever who fulfilled his role was lefty specialist Jamie Walker, who retired Gregg Zaun to start the inning. Once Blue Jays manager John Gibbons lifted left-handed-hitting Eric Hinske for righty Shea Hillenbrand, Rodney was brought in.

And the Blue Jays were off.

Hillenbrand's solo homer off a 2-2 changeup whittled Detroit's lead to two. Aaron Hill singled on what ended up being Rodney's final strike of the night. He walked pinch-hitter Alex Rios on four pitches to put the tying run on base.

Leyland had been warming up Bobby Seay and Jason Grilli when Rodney's struggles began. By the time Rios walked, Jones was warming up.

After a first-pitch ball to Reed Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez visited the mound to calm down Rodney. Once Rodriguez left the mound, Leyland went for Jones, hoping for a double-play ground ball. As he put it, he didn't want to make the move, but he had to.

"I felt like Fernando was out of sync," Leyland said, "and I was sure I didn't want another walk to load the bases. I'm not saying he would've walked him, but it looked like he was out of sync. I felt like Jones could throw the ball over the plate, which he did. He just didn't get it on the ground."

Hoping for five outs, Jones couldn't retire a batter. He got the ground ball, but not the out.

Johnson lined a 2-2 pitch from Jones to left for a single to load the bases, then Frank Catalanotto hit a ground ball up the middle. Placido Polanco made a diving attempt at the ball, hoping to keep it in the infield. It deflected off the tip of his glove and drifted into center, slowing the ball enough for Rios to score from second.

Jones threw three straight balls to Wells, who smacked a 3-1 pitch to the wall in right-center field to put Toronto ahead for the first time since the second inning. Once Troy Glaus singled in Wells, Leyland lifted Jones for Seay, who gave up an RBI double to Lyle Overbay and a run-scoring single to Zaun before Hillenbrand's sacrifice fly marked the second out.

Detroit's bullpen has struggled of late, including three losses in the past eight days. Yet it entered the night with a 3.42 ERA for the season. By night's end, the ERA was up to 3.80.

Jones tried to put it on his shoulders.

"It all comes back to me because of the position that I'm in," Jones said. "There's a little more expected of me, as there should be. I'm here to end ballgames. Tonight I did, but not in the best of ways."

Jones went straight to the video after his outing. He has given up 11 runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings over his last six outings.

He has battled hamstring and knee injuries for much of the season, but when asked about his health, he said, "I don't make excuses. If I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go. That's kind of the way I look at it."

The Blue Jays had been threatening an outburst for much of the night. Although Jeremy Bonderman allowed six hits in as many innings and walked three, he also struck out six. Four of those strikeouts came with runners in scoring position and the middle of the Blue Jays order at the plate.

Joel Zumaya entered in the seventh inning with his fastball firing, but two walks brought the potential tying run to the plate with two outs. He escaped when Overbay grounded out to second on a 98-mph fastball.

Ideally, that would've led to Rodney and Jones to work the eighth and ninth. But as Rodriguez pointed out, these circumstances didn't work out.

"We played against the best hitting team in the league," Rodriguez said. "They can hit. Sometimes when you get behind, they're going to take advantage of it. That's what happened today."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.