DETROIT -- Aaron Sanchez has not enjoyed the type of season he expected, but with the Blue Jays reeling through a three-city road trip, he rose to the occasion. The end result snapped Toronto's five-game losing streak.The Blue Jays won for just the fifth time in their last 20 games
DETROIT -- Aaron Sanchez has not enjoyed the type of season he expected, but with the Blue Jays reeling through a three-city road trip, he rose to the occasion. The end result snapped Toronto's five-game losing streak.
The Blue Jays won for just the fifth time in their last 20 games on Sunday afternoon, and Sanchez was the primary reason why. He allowed one run over six strong innings as Toronto avoided the three-game sweep with an 8-4 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Toronto's lineup was held scoreless for the first five innings, but Sanchez bought the Blue Jays enough time to come to life with two runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh. Justin Smoak finished 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and three RBIs, and Sanchez picked up his first victory since April 30 after scattering two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
"I thought [Sanchez] looked nice and free and easy," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Something just looked different. To be honest, I can't tell you what it is. But it was more effortless today. He did a nice job, he really did. We scored a bunch."
Sanchez entered Sunday with a 5.96 ERA over his previous five starts and he had not completed six innings in more than a month. Command and an inconsistent release point had been areas of concern, but he was aggressive against the Tigers and frequently worked ahead in the count. Sanchez primarily went with his fastball, but he also sprinkled in 21 changeups and eight curveballs during his 100-pitch performance.
The only minor blip for Sanchez came in the bottom of the sixth, when Leonys Martin hit a solo homer to right for his seventh of the year. Sanchez was nearly flawless otherwise, allowing just two runners to reach scoring position as the Blue Jays improved to 4-8 in his 12 starts this season. The outing saw Sanchez's ERA drop to 4.48 in his first quality start since April 25.
"For the most part, I just left it up to Russell [Martin]," Sanchez said. "He had a good game plan going into it. I didn't really talk to him much before, so he just kind of led the way. Defense made some good plays, out in center, Kevin [Pillar] made some good plays, got some good jumps on balls. Just a great team win. I think we needed that big time heading home and hopefully getting things rolling."
Toronto's offense had been in an extended slumber heading into Sunday, with 443 total hits, which ranked last in the American League. The bats appeared headed for another quiet game against right-hander Michael Fulmer, but the lineup busted out over the final four frames. In addition to Smoak's two-run homer, Randal Grichuk hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning for his third home run of the season, and Aledmys Diaz also chipped in with a two-hit afternoon.
"I feel like it's probably a sense of relief. We feel like as a group, just grinding out every at-bat and every play to try to be that guy to step up," Smoak said. "I feel like it kind of takes some pressure off and when the pressure comes off you see what happens. Guys go up there, have better at-bats and good things happen."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sigh of relief: The Blue Jays carried an 8-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but the bullpen made it a little bit interesting. Neither Danny Barnes nor Aaron Loup could limit the damage, as two runs scored while they combined to record just one out. Gibbons handed the ball to right-hander Dennis Tepera, who entered with runners on the corners and one out. Tepera came through by holding the Tigers to one more run, and he came back out for the ninth inning to close out the game.
"It was not supposed to be that difficult, but we closed it out," Gibbons said.
Piling on: The Blue Jays pieced together a four-run inning for the first time since May 19. The long overdue outbreak occurred in the top of the seventh and multiple Toronto hitters got in on the action. Smoak and Grichuk had RBI doubles, while Diaz and Yangervis Solarte chipped in with RBI singles. Two of those runs were charged to Fulmer, as he finished with four runs over six-plus frames. The other two were charged to reliever Warwick Saupold.
"It feels good," Grichuk said, of the previously elusive tack-on runs. "They tried to put up a little scare there at the end, so a team is never really out of it, but it feels good to be up 8-1 at that one point. Knowing you just have to get outs and put the game away."
Smoak has reached base in all but four of his 53 games this season. He has 10 multi-hit games, and two games with multiple extra-base hits.
HE SAID IT
"First time you've been interviewed in a while, ain't it?" Gibbons jokingly asked Smoak after the game, as Smoak held court with reporters.
Smoak didn't miss a beat.
"At least I'm doing it," he replied with a smile, in reference to Gibbons' decision to decline speaking to the media on Saturday following the club's fifth consecutive loss.
The Blue Jays will enjoy an off-day Monday before returning home to open a two-game series against the Yankees. Veteran right-hander Marco Estrada (2-6, 5.68 ERA) will take the mound in the series opener, with first pitch scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET. Estrada is coming off a rough month in the rotation. He has not completed five innings in either of his last two starts, and he has not won a game since April 20. New York will counter with lefty Carsten Sabathia (2-1, 3.73).
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.