Just one win away from the American League Championship Series and with ace Aaron Sanchez poised to pitch next, the Blue Jays come home firmly in the driver’s seat of their ALDS showdown with the Texas Rangers.
After winning a 10-1 blowout on Thursday, Toronto used the long ball Friday afternoon to batter Texas starter Yu Darvish and then hang on for a 5-3 victory and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
While the champagne may be chilling at the Rogers Centre, the Jays will remember that Texas won the first two games of the 2015 ALDS on the road before losing the next three to Toronto.
“I learned something last year,” said Jays manager John Gibbons. “You know what, you’ve got to win three games, They’ve got a great team over there. You don’t lead the American League, powerhouse league, you don’t luck into that.”
“Nothing’s going to be easy,” he added. “We always feel good when Sanchez takes the mound but I know they feel good whenever they take the field, too.”
Sanchez (15-2 with an AL-leading earned-run average of 3.00 in 30 starts this season) will face Colby Lewis (6-5, 3.71 ERA in 19 starts).
Rangers manager Jeff Banister also cast his eyes back to last year.
“We’re up against it,” he said. “We’ve got to win three in a row. We were on the other side of that last year. I mean we’ve been in situations where we won three games in a row before. We’ve got to start with one.”
Texas outhit the Jays 13-6 but the Rangers paid for taking a knife to a gunfight, spraying singles while the Jays swung for the fences. Texas left 13 men on base, compared to Toronto’s four.
Troy Tulowitzki hit a two-run homer in the second inning while Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Edwin Encarnacion added solo shots — all in the fifth — for Toronto after Texas pulled one run back in the fourth.
“What got us today was four unexecuted pitches and we didn’t capitalize on any run-scoring opportunities,” lamented Banister.
Still there were some nervy moments as Texas mounted a comeback in the eighth, scoring twice before closer Roberto Osuna — back in action after a slight shoulder issue — got the two outs needed to extinguish the threat.
The white-knuckle ride continued in the ninth when Adrian Beltre doubled off the left-field wall, with the ball bouncing back between outfielder Melvin Upton’s legs. Osuna ended the drama with a strikeout, popout and flyout to cap a 31-pitch outing for the save.
“They made a big run at us tonight,” said Gibbons. “But our young kid, Osuna, stepped up.”
Jays silence crowd again
The sellout crowd of 48,019 at Globe Life Park crowd, silenced by a five-run third inning in Toronto’s lopsided victory Thursday, spent much of the game sitting on its hands again until the late attempt at a rally.
Toronto starter J.A. Happ (1-0) bent but did not break before leaving in the sixth, pitching out of a ton of trouble after giving up nine hits — all singles.
In contrast, the Rangers left two men on in each of the first three innings. Happ’s Houdini-like escapes finally failed him in the fourth when he gave up one run on three straight singles with two outs. Ian Desmond’s RBI single put Texas on the board.
Facing a quality pitcher in Darvish (0-1), the Jays took Gibbons’ pre-game comments on Japanese pitchers to heart.
“If you get a mistake or two, you would be wise to do something because you know you’re not going to get that many of them really,” he said.
It marked the first time Darvish has given up four homers in a game. The four homers hit and conceded were post-season club records for both Toronto and Texas, respectively, and tied the major league record for home runs allowed in a post-season game.
The three homers in one inning set another Jays post-season mark.