ST. PETERSBURG -- Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada took a perfect game into the eighth inning of a 1-0 victory over the Rays on Wednesday afternoon and now finds himself on the type of roll that hasn't been seen since 1988.
In his last outing, Estrada carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, but he was even better against Tampa Bay. The veteran righty retired the first 22 batters he faced Wednesday, and with those two incredible performances in back-to-back starts, he has joined some elite company.
The last Major League pitcher to carry a no-hitter into the eighth inning in consecutive starts was former Toronto starter Dave Stieb from Sept. 24-30, 1988. Stieb also happens to be the only pitcher in franchise history to record a no-hitter when he did it on Sept. 2, 1990, against the Indians.
"It's tough to do," said Estrada, who had the perfect game broken up by an infield hit off the bat of Logan Forsythe. "There are so many good hitters out there, every lineup is really good.
"There are days when you feel better than others, and you kind of know it's going to be a good day when you go out and you're locating pitches. I'm sure that's how most pitchers are. I think anybody could do it, but it takes some luck on your side to get this done, and maybe next time I'll have a little more luck on my side I guess."
Estrada also became the fourth pitcher in Blue Jays history to strike out at least 10 batters while allowing two hits or fewer and not issuing a walk. Roy Halladay (May 29, 2005, vs. Minnesota), Roger Clemens (Sept. 7, 1997, vs. Texas) and Stieb (Aug. 4, 1989, vs. the Yankees) are the others.
The 31-year-old Estrada recovered after the infield hit by Forsythe and continued on until a two-out double in the ninth by Kevin Kiermaier. With the game still scoreless, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was trying to wait as long as possible to get Estrada a win, but in the end it didn't work out, and he was forced to settle for a no-decision despite the dominating performance.
The career-high 129 pitches by Estrada were the most in the Major Leagues since Philadelphia's A.J. Burnett tossed 131 on July 23, 2014, against the Giants. It's also the most by a Blue Jays pitcher since right-hander Brandon Morrow took a no-hitter into the ninth inning on Aug. 8, 2010, and finished with 137 pitches.
"He's been on some kind of roll," Gibbons said of Estrada, who allowed two hits and struck out 10 over 8 2/3 innings. "He's an old veteran war horse, you know? He just keeps plowing along."
Forsythe's infield hit was especially hard to take for Estrada because he induced such weak contact. In this particular case, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson did everything he could by charging the ball and making a barehanded play, but Forsythe was able to beat the throw by a split second, which replays later confirmed.
Estrada's potential no-hitter against Baltimore on June 19 was broken up in somewhat similar fashion. Orioles pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes hit a little blooper to left field that fell between shortstop Jose Reyes and left fielder Ezequiel Carrera. Pitchers never want to give up hard contact, but in these particular cases, they might have been easier to take.
"He had really good stuff working," Forsythe said. "His changeup was really good today. I was just trying to get the barrel on the ball, try to get it somewhere. It wasn't a pretty hit, but it was a hit. Hats off to him. He pitched a great game."