TORONTO -- It was understandably easy to overlook Austin Jackson's three hits on Saturday. They were three more hits than the Blue Jays could muster against Justin Verlander.
So Jackson went out and did it again on Sunday, going 3-for-5 -- including the tiebreaking two-run homer in the seventh inning against Jo-Jo Reyes (0-3). Suddenly, the Tigers have a chance to win their second four-game series in a row.
With Brad Penny (3-3) allowing only the two runs produced by a Jose Bautista homer in the third inning, the Tigers defeated the Blue Jays, 5-2, before 17,392 at Rogers Centre.
Jose Valverde struck out the side in the ninth to earn his seventh save of the season, and 200th of his career.
Penny allowed seven hits in 7 2/3 innings and controlled his sinker well enough to induce two double-play grounders against the aggressive Blue Jays.
And that is good news for the Tigers, because Penny has won three of his past four starts to put the club in a position to do what it did earlier this week in its four-game series against the Yankees: Win three in a row after losing the opener.
But the key development here could be the return to form of Jackson in the leadoff spot. He can be a force at the top of the order with his speed, and his six hits over the past two days -- which improved his average to .224 -- are evidence of that.
"He's just putting the ball in play," manager Jim Leyland said. "When he put the ball in play last year, he had a terrific batting average, and that's his thing, when he puts the ball in play he gets hits."
"I was relaxed today and got good fastballs and put some good swings on them," Jackson said.
When Jackson did have good swings earlier in the season, the hits didn't come. "A couple of games did," he said, "but a lot of times I would be late on fastballs to hit and things like that. I tried to stay a little more positive these couple of games, and it's been working out. I would say just taking a positive attitude up there and being confident in yourself definitely helps."
If that's the case, Leyland can only hope that Jackson maintains that attitude. "He got three yesterday, it kind of went unnoticed," Leyland said. "He had a big day again today. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come. That would certainly be a big help to us, a catalyst at the top of the lineup like he was last year.
"He's gradually coming back. Let's not push him on and off the bandwagon. We've just to watch it and watch it, keep letting him play and see what happens."
Jackson said he wasn't discouraged by his struggles.
"Not really," he said. "I had to keep working at things with me and [hitting coach Lloyd McClendon] going to the cage. He did lot of talking, that was the main thing, you know, him trying to keep me positive when things weren't going well. It was one of those things where you have to keep battling when things aren't going your way."
The homer on a 2-2 pitch was his second of the season and followed Brandon Inge's two-out single. And he was using a symbolic pink bat on Mother's Day.
"It definitely felt good to get that hit," Jackson said. "With me staying positive and going up there with the right intentions, it definitely helped me out. It was hooking there at the end and I wasn't sure if it was going to stay fair. But it stayed fair and I was pretty happy about it."
Jackson led off the game with a single, and then had another single in the ninth. "To keep going there and keep battling each and every at-bat and not giving at-bats away, no matter what the situation," he said. "You can work on so many things mechanically, but if you don't believe in yourself when you're up there you're already beat before you go up there."
Jackson's homer made Valverde's milestone save possible on Sunday. He was asked if he is good for another 200.
"It would be nice," he said. "If I do it, I want to do it for Detroit. I want to end my career here. It's not only for me, it's for all my friends and my mother. She gave me everything I have, a good life. This is a special day."
The baseball, the spikes that he used Sunday and the lineup card he all sent to his mother. "She deserves it," he said.
But No. 200 wouldn't have happened without Penny adjusting and doing a better job later in the game of keeping his pitches down.
"I thought as the game went on he got the ball down much better," Leyland said. "Early, he was up a little bit and he was laboring a little bit to get the ball down. He's pitched pretty well lately, and it's kind of gone unnoticed."
Bautista hit a 3-2 pitch for his 10th homer of the season after missing the previous five games with neck spasms.
"It ran over the middle of the plate," Penny said. "It was definitely a mistake. It just ran. They're a real aggressive team. They were swinging at the first and second pitch, and fortunately I got a lot of ground balls that went right to the defense. A couple got through holes, but for the most part they were hit right at people. They got big double plays for me, I think that was the key.
"Even before the Bautista home run, I put two on with no outs and I go 3-0 on the hitter [Corey Patterson] and I wind up getting a double-play ground ball. That was huge."
Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.