The Canadian Press
TORONTO—Marco Estrada can count on striking it rich as a free agent in the off-season.
Wherever he ends up, the Blue Jays still will owe him big-time.
For the second time in the post-season, the 32-year-old right-hander kept Toronto alive—this time with a gem of a pitching performance in a 7-1 win over Kansas City that forced a sixth game in their AL Championship Series.
Estrada was near flawless in limiting the Royals to one hit over seven innings and three over 7 2/3 innings.
“Everything he threw up there was right where he wanted it,” noted Toronto manager John Gibbons.
“He had everything going,” Gibbons added. “He’s sticking that fastball, nice little curveball, and his overpowering change-up.
“He shut down a good-hitting, hot team.”
Estrada retired the first nine Kansas City batters he faced. A single in the fourth—promptly erased by a double play—and a two-out walk in the seventh were the only blemishes on his pitching line in the first seven innings as he retired 21-of-22.
He exited in the eighth to a standing ovation after giving up a two-out solo homer to Salvador Perez, followed by a single to Alex Gordon.
“Today he was absolutely dynamite,” said Royals’ manager Ned Yost.
“He didn’t miss spots. His change-up was fantastic.
“He just didn’t give us anything to hit,” Yost added.
The Royals still hold an edge going home, leading the best-of-seven series 3-2.
The teams go at it tomorrow night in Kauffman Stadium, with Toronto’s David Price likely facing Yordano Ventura in a rematch of Game 2, won 6-3 by the Royals.
Game 7, if necessary, goes Saturday.
Troy Tulowitzki drove in three runs in a four-run Toronto sixth and Chris Colabello contributed a solo homer in the second before a loud crowd of 49,325 under the dome at the Rogers Centre.
“It’s been a while since I pitched here and I forgot how great our fans were,” said Estrada.
“It was pretty loud today,” he noted. “I had a lot of adrenalin going.”
Estrada, who came to Toronto last November in a trade that send Adam Lind to Milwaukee, has delivered unexpected dividends for the Jays.
His spring training interrupted by a rolled ankle and with the focus on prospect Daniel Norris, the prognosis seemed a possible role in the bullpen.
Instead Estrada, who is making $3.9 million (U.S.) this season as he heads to free agency, became a key member of the rotation.
In June, he took no-hitters into the eighth inning in back-to-back starts. And he led the majors after the all-star break by limiting opposition hitters to batting .183.
“He’s pitched like that all year,” said Gibbons.
Estrada is the first Toronto pitcher to throw seven-consecutive shutout innings in a post-season game since Jimmy Key in Game 4 of the 1992 World Series
Still, with the Royals having the edge going home, Yost said his team is feeling good.
“We knew it was going to be a tough series,” he remarked.
“But after winning the first two games, in reality your goal is to come to Toronto—kind of a foreign environment, a hostile environment—and at least win one,” Yost reasoned.
“Then you get to go home and win one there, and the series is over.
“Now we’re going back to a place where we’re completely comfortable,” Yost added.
“That’s why home-field advantage was so important to us.”
Toronto—outscored 33-16 in the first four games and coming off a 14-2 humiliation in Game 4—needed a stopper and they got it once again in Estrada.
Estrada rescued the Jays with a victory in Game 3 of the ALDS in Texas, limiting the Rangers to one run in 6 1/3 innings in the first of Toronto’s must-win games this post-season.
Royals’ starter Edinson Volquez, who had a fine outing in Game 1 to beat Estrada, was almost as good yesterday—retiring 15 of the first 18 batters he faced.
But he unravelled in the sixth, walking three Jays and hitting another with a pitch while unable to get an out.
The Jays added single runs in the seventh and eighth.
Aaron Sanchez came in for Estrada, who struck out five and walked one, to get the final out in the eighth.
Toronto closer Roberto Osuna worked a 1-2-3 ninth.
It was Toronto’s fourth elimination game of the playoffs and the Jays went into the game confident they could take the series back to Kansas City.
The players’ suitcases were stacked neatly outside the clubhouse hours before first pitch—ready for transport to the airport.
“It’s a lot of pressure and there’s not a lot of room for mistakes,” said right-fielder Jose Bautista.
“Hopefully . . . when we get to the World Series, we have to take that experience to our advantage in the World Series.”
The Royals opened the series with 5-0 and 6-3 home wins.
Back in Toronto, the Jays rallied to win 11-8 before falling 14-2 in Game 4.