The headline for Game 3 of the American League Divisional Series against the Texas Rangers read “Estrada, Tulowitzki keep Jays alive” as the two delivered clutch performances in the first game where Toronto could be eliminated.
The headline for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals has to read the same thing, as Estrada crafted a masterful performance on the hill and Tulowitzki came through at the dish to help Toronto avoid elimination with a strong 7-1 win on Wednesday.
Estrada, acquired in the offseason for Adam Lind and viewed as a swing man out of the bullpen to start the year, was locked in from the outset, retiring leadoff ace Alcides Escobar and the next eight batters he faced to blank Kansas City through the opening three innings. When the Royals shortstop singled to lead off the fourth, he was promptly erased on a 4-6-3 double play.
Through the top half of the sixth, Toronto was clinging to a 1-0 lead, established in the second when Chris Colabello went yard off an Edinson Volquez change-up that stayed up in the zone. In the bottom of the inning, the Jays opened things up, with Tulowitzki delivering the decisive blow – a three-run double to center that avoided going over the fence, allowing Edwin Encarnacion to score from first.
The home side would sandwich insurance runs in the seventh and eighth around a Salvador Perez home run that gave Kansas City its lone run of the game, but the outcome was never in doubt beyond the sixth as the offense came through in the clutch and Estrada delivered an absolute gem to send the fans that flocked to Rogers Centre home happy.
In the end, the free agent-to-be tossed 7.2 innings of three-hit ball, walking one, striking out five, an even better effort than the one he turned in against Texas to keep the Toronto’s season alive in that series.
This sets up a very interesting Game 6 on Friday in Kansas City, where David Price will take the hill for Toronto, while the Royals will counter with Yordano Ventura. Price was actually quite good last time out, retiring 18 batters in a row at one point before the wheels fell off, while the Jays were able to get to Ventura for three runs on eight hits and two walks over 5.1 innings.
If they can have similar success on Friday – and avoid the fielding gaff that swung the game in the home side’s favour – they could very well force a Game 7, which would take place Saturday and have Marcus Stroman taking the ball for Toronto against Johnny Cueto, most likely.
The key for Toronto on Friday – as always – will be getting key hits when they get runners on base. Kaufman Stadium is a pitcher’s park that doesn’t yield many home runs, so the Jays will need to manufacture a few more runs. If that means a little more hit-and-run baseball and moving guys around when the time calls for it, so be it if that’s what it’s going to take in order to extend this series.
Estrada’s start was tremendous and helped Toronto in multiple ways. In addition to keeping them alive to play another day, his ability to go seven strong meant that only Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna needed to be called on from the bullpen. With an off day on Thursday, it should mean manager John Gibbons has all hands on deck for the latest elimination game of the season.
And you can’t help but feel like things are tilting in Toronto’s favour right now. The Jays lashed four doubles on Wednesday and drove in a pair of runs with two outs, elements that will be critical to their chances on Friday, plus their Game 5 victory moved them to 4-0 when facing elimination this postseason.
While it’s better to never have your back against the wall, you have to commend the Jays for playing their best when the chips are down.
Friday is another “win or go home” game, so hopefully the trend – and the season – continues.