October 06, 2016 - 6:07 PM
ARLINGTON, Texas - 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.
The Jays slugger was happy to keep the focus on baseball rather than rehash Toronto's recent Hatfield-and-McCoy-like feuding with the Rangers.
"I wanted to avoid all the questions about the whole ordeal because we're baseball players, not UFC fighters, and we came here to play ballgames," Bautista said. "That's why I wanted everybody to kind of focus on that in our clubhouse. And we did and we played a pretty good game today and hopefully we continue to do that."
It was Bautista's fourth home run in his last eight post-season at-bats. He is tied with Joe Carter for most playoff homers by a Blue Jay with six.
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.
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?"
Estrada is like baseball's answer to Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. Both are single-minded.
"Essentially it comes down to the same thing — stopping pucks," Price said in Sochi during the Winter Olympics.
Estrada can relate.
"Basically I just try to pound the zone. I look at Russ's glove and I try to hit it as many times as possible," he said, referencing catcher Russell Martin.
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.
It was 32 degrees under the sun at first pitch before a sellout crowd of 47,434 that had little to cheer about at Globe Life Park.
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.
Thursday's game marked the first meeting of the teams since a wild game on May 15 in Texas. Baseball gave way to payback as Bautista was hit by a pitch and then clocked in the face by a Rougned Odor right hook when the second baseman objected to the Jays slugger's hard slide. The ensuing brawl resulted in discipline against 14 players and staff.
The Rangers were still seething at Bautista's three-run homer, complete with bat-flip, which served as the coup de grace in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS.
Bautista, who drew boos throughout the day, started his payback Thursday by helping the scoreboard keep ticking in the third.
The lone blemish on Hamels' line in the first two innings was an early walk to Donaldson. But the bottom fell out in the third.
Ezequiel Carrera walked with one out, went to second on a wild pitch and came home one out later on a Donaldson screamer that went off Beltre's glove at third and into right field. Donaldson, whose slide into second on the play survived a Texas challenge, went to third on an Encarnacion hit that deflected off Hamels' glove.
Bautista's RBI single, after an eight-pitch at-bat, made it 2-0. A Martin walk loaded the bases before Tulowitzki cleared them with a triple that centre-fielder Ian Desmond lost near the wall. The ball left Tulowitzki's bat at 102 m.p.h. and travelled 395 feet.
It was Tulowitzki's first post-season triple — and the first by a Blue Jay in 23 years (Paul Molitor, October 1993).
Hamels, who is making US$23.5 million this season, needed 42 pitches to get out of the inning. Estrada threw a total of 44 in his first four innings.
It was Hamels' first start against Toronto since last season's playoffs. The 32-year-old left-hander had never beaten the Blue Jays (0-4 in his career including the post-season).
Texas finished as the top seed in the AL with a 95-67 record that included a franchise-record 53 home wins. Toronto had to beat Baltimore in the wild-card game after ending up the fourth seed at 89-73.
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.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016