TORONTO -- Marco Estrada was a revelation for the Blue Jays during the regular season, he pulled them out of the gutter in the American League Division Series and, in his latest act, the veteran right-hander gave Toronto a fighting chance in the AL Championship Series.
Estrada helped the Blue Jays avoid elimination for at least one more game by tossing 7 2/3 brilliant innings against the Royals in Game 5 on Wednesday evening at Rogers Centre. That was more than enough to secure a 7-1 victory and force Game 6 on Friday night (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1/Sportsnet, 8 p.m. game time) at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
The soon-to-be free agent is starting to make a habit of coming through when his back is against the wall. He was dominant against the Rangers in the ALDS, and he was even better against the Royals despite having zero margin for error.
"He's pitched like that all year," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons marvelled. "We've seen him take a couple of no-hitters late in the games, very durable. He gives up minimal hits.
"The fact that it's an elimination game, he really rose to the occasion. ... He had everything going, he's sticking that fastball, nice little curveball, and his overpowering changeup. He shut down a good hitting, hot team."
Game 5 of the ALCS felt eerily similar to Game 3 against Texas. The Blue Jays were trailing 2-0 in that best-of-five series and needed to win three consecutive games to advance. In a win-or-go-home scenario, Estrada responded with 6 1/3 innings for a 5-1 victory. Wednesday's win made him the eighth starting pitcher in history to win multiple potential elimination games in one postseason, and the first since the Giants' Matt Cain in 2012.
In Estrada's ALDS win against Texas, Troy Tulowitzki broke things open in the sixth with a three-run homer to left. It was almost the exact same story Wednesday as Toronto was clinging to a 1-0 lead before scoring four runs in the sixth, three of which scored on Tulowitzki's bases-loaded double.
So there were Estrada and Tulowitzki sitting together once again at the media podium after the Blue Jays improved to 4-0 in elimination games. They were the stars when Toronto needed them the most, and there was a sense of deja vu about the whole scene.
"We can get used to it, I'll tell you that," Tulowitzki said. "Hopefully, it's not the last time we're up here. It means our ballclub is playing good.
"I can't say enough about this guy, he was obviously special tonight. It's the start that we needed. They're a great team over there, we know that, but this guy kept them off balance and allowed the offense to settle in and get some runs."
Estrada became the first AL pitcher since Don Larsen to begin a postseason game by facing the minimum over 6 2/3 innings. That run ended with a walk to Lorenzo Cain, and his bid for a shutout also disappeared in the eighth when Salvador Perez hit a solo homer, but it was still pretty close to perfection.
Estrada allowed three hits and one walk over 7 2/3 innings. He struck out five and, more importantly, he kept Toronto's season alive by buying the offense enough time to go to work off Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez.
"The only difference was that I got to pitch at home," Estrada said when asked to compare this game to his start against Texas. "It's been a while since I pitched here, and I forgot how great our fans were. It was pretty loud today. I had a lot of adrenaline going. That's the only difference.
"The last game I was pretty calm and I was just trying to do my job. This time I still had the same mindset, but the fans got me going a little bit early on, and just made it a little more fun."