Tigers outslug Blue Jays as Vierling's walk-off HR caps off wild finish

May 26th, 2024

DETROIT -- The Tigers debuted their City Connect uniforms a few weeks ago, but they were initially planning to wear them only for Friday home games. The way Detroit played this weekend has already made them a more regular fixture.

“They will make their Tuesday debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’re going to keep the mojo going.”

Spencer Torkelson, who went to Taco Bell daily at one point during a hitting tear last year, had avoided superstitions this season -- until now.

“Maybe a little bit,” he smiled. “I guess we’ll keep riding them out.”

No, it doesn’t make any sense. But it’s not like there are any logical ways to explain how the Tigers, who have found themselves in low-scoring duels frequently this season and won on the strength of their pitching, went swing for swing with the Blue Jays, blew two five-run leads and came back for a 14-11 walk-off win.

“Please don’t ask me to explain that,” Hinch said after watching the teams combine for 25 runs and 31 hits, including seven home runs.

On a day when Hinch batted leadoff with the intent of attacking Blue Jays lefty starter Yusei Kikuchi, Vierling became the hero with two home runs off of righties, culminating in the game-winning three-run blast off Jordan Romano.

“That’s something you always dream about as a kid,” Vierling said of his first career walk-off homer to complete a four-hit day. “My brother and I would always dream about that in the backyard.”

Torkelson returned to the Tigers' lineup amidst an 0-for-19 slump and fell a triple shy of a cycle, including a third-inning solo home run off Kikuchi that built a 5-0 lead.

Carson Kelly began the game as the DH to face Kikuchi, hit a three-run homer against a righty, then ended the game as the catcher once the Tigers pinch-hit for Jake Rogers after Daulton Varsho’s three-run homer off Jason Foley put Detroit in an 11-9 hole in the eighth. The Tigers had to give up the DH slot, so they would’ve had the pitcher’s spot due up third in the 10th inning had Vierling not come through in the ninth.

“I feel like every time we play [Toronto], they always find a way to come back,” Vierling said.

Kelly was behind the plate for a scoreless ninth inning from Mason Englert, the first scoreless frame Detroit tossed since starter Casey Mize escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third.

“When Carson went in and got the zero in the ninth, I just went up and patted him,” Rogers said. “I was like, ‘Man, good for you. I couldn’t do that since the third.’

“I don’t think I’ve been a part of a game like that in a while. There’s been some high-scoring games for us or the other team where we scored eight or nine and they score two. But both teams scoring 11, that’s a lot of movement on the bases. It’s a strange, strange feeling, but we got through it.”

It marks the most runs the Tigers have given up in a nine-inning victory since July 28, 2021, when they outslugged the Twins at Target Field for a 17-14 win. They hadn’t done it at Comerica Park since a 12-11 win over the Yankees on Sept. 10, 2019, when the Bronx Bombers homered six times and lost.

“Games like that give us more belief that there’s more than one way to win,” Torkelson said.

The Tigers have a three-game winning streak for the first time since April 21-23, and they have won three in a row at home for the first time since sweeping the Royals in the final week of last season. All three wins this weekend came in the City Connects, which were worn by design on Friday, but which have been continued by vote of Tigers players with each win since.

That’s not unusual. The Red Sox, for instance, have stuck with their City Connects when they get hot, which shows in their 31-9 record when they don the yellow tops, including 16-5 since the start of last season. The Tigers probably wouldn’t go to that extreme, particularly with midnight blue uniforms on hot summer days as the season goes on. But they’re a superstitious enough group that they’re not going to mess with success, even if they might get toasty in the afternoon sun.

“Not like it’s 100 out,” Rogers said. “Even [if it was], I’d probably still wear them if we’re winning.”