By Alykhan Ravjiani and Dhiren Mahiban
TORONTO -- Hours after winning the American League Rookie of the Month Award for April, the Majors' youngest player put on an encore performance at Rogers Centre. Nomar Mazara's go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth and game-saving outfield assist in the bottom half of the inning propelled the Rangers to 2-1 win over the Blue Jays on Monday night, the first meeting between the two teams since last year's thrilling five-game AL Division Series, a battle punctuated by Jose Bautista's famous home run and bat flip.
Mazara sent a cutter from Gavin Floyd over the center-field wall to break a 1-1 deadlock. Much like in last season's series clincher, the Blue Jays threatened to make a comeback late against reliever Sam Dyson, loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth. But that's when Mazara, 21, made his presence felt on the defensive side, throwing out Michael Saunders at home plate on a Troy Tulowitzki flyout to keep the Rangers in front.
Umpires reviewed the inning-ending double play and confirmed that Saunders was tagged out before touching home plate.
"The throw for sure [was more important to me]," Mazara said. "To try to preserve the lead, that's way more important. Everything here is about winning."
A.J. Griffin started for the Rangers and went six innings, striking out a career-high-tying nine batters while keeping Toronto's bats at bay by changing speeds with his devastating curveball. The 28-year-old, who completed at least five innings for the 33rd consecutive start, allowed just an RBI single to Saunders in the third.
"[My curveball] makes my fastball play at a lot faster velocity, and it's a huge weapon for me to have," Griffin said.
R.A. Dickey started for the Blue Jays and had his longest outing of the season, throwing 6 1/3 innings while allowing only a third-inning home run to rookie catcher Brett Nicholas. The 41-year-old knuckleballer got some help from his defense in the top of the seventh after leaving the game with the bases loaded, when outfielder Kevin Pillar and Tulowitzki hooked up on an inning-ending double play, which was confirmed on review.
"I thought [Dickey] was really good. He pitched good enough to win," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He got out of the jam, we caught a break there when we threw the guy out there at second base before the run had crossed, so he was feeling pretty good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Double-up: Pillar had Dickey feeling good after throwing out Delino DeShields at second base to prevent the run from scoring. Mitch Moreland led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball. After Elvis Andrus flied out, Nicholas walked and DeShields singled to load the bases. Dickey left the game responsible for all three runners. With Floyd on in relief, Moreland attempted to tag up and score on a Rougned Odor sac fly to Pillar, but prior to Moreland crossing the plate, DeShields was thrown out by Pillar while trying to advance to second. Moreland's run initially counted, but a review showed DeShields was tagged out on the 8-6 double play before Moreland crossed the plate, keeping it a 1-1 game. More >
Dyson gets out of it: After loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, Dyson escaped trouble thanks to his rookie right fielder. Tulowitzki flied out to Mazara, who threw a strike to home plate to nab Saunders and end the inning. Dyson last pitched against the Blue Jays in Game 5 of the ALDS, allowing Bautista's go-ahead three-run home run in Toronto's 6-3 victory. "You've got a right fielder who is on the run; we're trying to make something happen," Gibbons said. "I've got no problem with that at all."
Dyson got Bautista to line out and then watched Mazara keep the Rangers ahead. More >
Manufacturing: With the Blue Jays trailing 1-0 in the third, Pillar led off the inning with a double. After Pillar advanced to third on a groundout by catcher Josh Thole, the center fielder scored on a Saunders single, tying the game at 1.
Texas two-step: Nicholas gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning, notching his second home run of the season to straightaway center field past a leaping Pillar. The rookie catcher took a 2-1 knuckleball from Dickey and hit it a projected 393 feet, according to Statcast™. The home run extended Nicholas' hitting streak to four games and was his fifth extra-base hit of the season.
In addition to the two key reviews in the seventh and eighth, Toronto challenged in the ninth whether Odor's foot was on second base on the putout of Ryan Goins. The call on the field was confirmed that Odor's foot was on the base and that Goins was in fact out.
WHAT'S NEXT Rangers: Left-hander Martin Perez (1-2, 4.20 ERA) will take the mound in the second game of the Rangers' four-game series against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre at 6:07 p.m. CT. Perez picked up his first win of the season his last time out against the Yankees, pitching six innings of two-run ball while striking out three.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada (1-2, 2.92) will face Perez in a rematch of Game 3 of the 2015 ALDS on Tuesday at 7:07 p.m. ET. Estrada threw a season-high 118 pitches in a 4-0 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday.