ARLINGTON, Texas - 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."
The Jays fly home with question-marks over second baseman Devon Travis and left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Travis was a late scratch after his right knee locked up overnight. He took an injection but sat out when it didn't help. While Gibbons said he did not think the injury was a big deal, an MRI is scheduled for back in Toronto.
Liriano was hit in the side of the head with a ball that left Carlos Gomez's bat at 102 m.p.h. in the eighth inning. He left the field on his own steam but was taken to a hospital for further checks via ambulance on a stretcher wearing a neck brace. After examination at a local hospital Liriano was cleared to fly back to Toronto with his teammates.
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.
Tulowitzki did just that with a 2-0 pitch in the second. Pillar, Carrera and Encarnacion then made Darvish pay again and again and again in a Groundhog Day-type fifth.
Pillar sent the ball 370 feet to left field. One out later, Carrera went 18 feet farther to right-centre. With two outs, Encarnacion lined a ball 357 feet to left field.
The ball the six-foot Pillar hit was four foot two inches off the ground, according to Statcast. Only two balls higher were hit for home runs all season.
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.
The long ball barrage chased Darvish. He was replaced at the start of the sixth after yielding five runs on five hits with one walk and four strikeouts in an 84-pitch outing that featured 52 strikes.
Happ lasted five innings and one batter. He gave up nine hits with one walk and five strikeouts in a not-exactly-textbook 84-pitch (54-strike) afternoon. The fifth was his only 1-2-3 inning,
Desmond, trying to score on a grounder to third, was thrown out by Josh Donaldson at home plate in the seventh. The tag survived a challenge as the Rangers' luck continued to be all bad.
Texas put men on first and second with one out in the eighth, scoring on Gomez's single that lined off Liriano.
The play brought in Osuna, pitching for the first time since leaving in the 10th inning of Tuesday's wild-card game complaining about his shoulder. A Desmond groundout brought in another run before Osuna struck out Carlos Beltran.
Thanks to Marco Estrada's fine outing in Game 1, Gibbons only needed two outs from the bullpen in the form of Ryan Tepera on Thursday.
He had to use five relievers on Friday.
In stark contrast to Thursday's toasty 32-degree conditions, Friday's game opened to slight drizzle and 19-degree gloom.
Darvish looked lively early Friday, corkscrewing Encarnacion and Russell Martin with some nasty early deliveries. But he walked Jose Bautista to open the second and, one out later, Tulowitzki hammered a 96.2 m.p.h. four-seam fastball 402 feet to left-centre field with the ball leaving his bat at 105 m.p.h.
It was the fastest Darvish pitch deposited over the fence this season, according to Statcast.
Tulowitzki has five RBIs in the first two games of the series, moving into a tie with Bautista for third place in franchise post-season history with a total of 16. Joe Carter leads with 20.
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