It was a beatdown but this time the bad blood stayed under the surface.
Toronto rocked Cole Hamels for five runs in the third inning and a near flawless Marco Estrada delivered 8 1/3 stellar innings as the Blue Jays thumped the Texas Rangers 10-1 Thursday to win Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Jose Bautista, Public Enemy No. 1 in Texas, slammed a three-run homer in the ninth inning off reliever Jake Diekman to rub salt in the wound. No bat-flip this time. He put his weapon down gently after the blast to left field, where the fan who caught the ball whipped it back into play.
Toronto came close to its first complete game of the season — and the first of Estrada’s career. But Elvis Andrus tripled to open the bottom of the ninth and scored on a Shin-Soo Choo’s groundout. Manager John Gibbons then brought in Ryan Tepera to close the door.
“Two outs away from finishing it. Unfortunately I couldn’t,” said Estrada, who failed to convince Gibbons to keep him in. “But who cares, we won. That’s all that matters.”
Estrada (1-0) gave up one run in 8 1/3 innings on four hits with six strikeouts in a 98-pitch performance with 72 strikes. He becomes the third Jay in playoff history to record a start of eight-plus innings while giving up one run or less (Dave Stieb, 1985, and David Cone, 1992).
In contrast, Hamels allowed a playoff career-high seven runs in the shortest outing of the 2008 World Series MVP’s post-season career.
Estrada even-keeled in win
While Bautista relishes the big stage, Estrada says he treats it like any other game.
“I don’t change anything. I just think of it as another regular-season game. Why am I going to add extra pressure on myself?”
Gibbons, meanwhile, savoured a game where the drama came early not late.
“In reality we were due to break out. Can’t say we necessarily relaxed, but it was kind of nice to have a game where you have a little breathing room, because we haven’t had too many of those lately.”
Toronto’s performance had many rushing to the record books.
ESPN Stats says the Jays are just the third team in post-season history to win Game 1 of a best-of-five series by at least nine runs on the road (joining the 2002 Cardinals and 2011 Rays). It also notes that teams up 1-0 in a best-of-five MLB post-season series win the series 70 per cent of the time, although it didn’t work for Texas last year against Toronto.
Big 3rd inning paces Jays
The Jays sent nine men to the plate in the third, scoring all five runs — all with two outs. Troy Tulowitzki did the bulk of the damage with a three-run triple.
Melvin Upton Jr. hit a solo homer in a two-run fourth for Toronto. Josh Donaldson, who had two singles, two doubles and a walk on the day, drove in a run in each of the third and fourth. His four hits tied a club post-season mark.
While Hamels (0-1) wobbled in 3 1/3 innings, Estrada was rock-steady, retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. The only Ranger to get on during that stretch was Adrian Beltre, on a second-inning infield hit that saw first baseman Edwin Encarnacion make the play only to find no one was covering first.
Estrada retired 12 straight after Beltre before Andrus singled to open the Texas half of the sixth. Andrus was promptly caught stealing as Choo struck out — it was that kind of day for the Rangers.
The 33-year-old right-hander faced just one batter over the minimum over eight innings, helping ease the load of a Toronto bullpen that was looking to rest closer Roberto Osuna and his sore shoulder.
Toronto outhit Texas 13-4.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister said he does not expect any fallout from the one-sided loss.
“Given how our club has played all year long, and we’ve been in these type of situations before, look, we’ve come back and played well after these type of games. And with the veteran group that we have in there, I don’t worry about the collateral damage in a game like this. Obviously we would have liked to have a played a lot more competitively. But the other thing that you’ve got to look at, too, is Estrada threw a heck of a game.”
Neither team will have much time to reflect on it, given Game 2 starts at noon local time.