Pressure of big game no problem for Estrada

Pressure of big game no problem for Estrada

ARLINGTON -- There seems to be something about Marco Estrada rising to the occasion whenever the Blue Jays need him the most. Big game? Backs against the wall? No problem at all.

Estrada walked into the hostile environment at Globe Life Park on Thursday and came through once again. He scattered four hits and didn't allow a run until the ninth inning en route to the Blue Jays' 10-1 victory over the Rangers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

Toronto broke open the game early with a five-run third inning, but don't let that take any attention from Estrada's performance. He was more than good, he was borderline unhittable. And along the way, he became the second Blue Jays starter to record at least one out in the ninth inning of a postseason game, joining Jack Morris (1992).

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 TOR 10, TEX 1 video
Gm 2 Oct. 7 TOR 5 TEX 3 video
Gm 3 Oct. 9 TOR 7, TEX 6 (10) video

"To be honest with you, I ... don't change anything," Estrada said of his postseason success. "I think of it as another regular-season game. Why am I going to add extra pressure on myself? There's no point in doing that ... so I think about it just as a normal game, and I basically just try to pound the zone."

Whatever Estrada's approach has been in these situations, there's no doubt it has worked. He has a 1.95 ERA in four postseason starts with Toronto, and on Thursday, he became the third pitcher in franchise history to toss at least eight innings and allow one run or fewer in a playoff game, joining Dave Stieb (Game 1, 1985 AL Championship Series) and David Cone (Game 2, 1992 ALCS).

Last year, the Blue Jays turned to Estrada in a win-or-go-home scenario vs. the Rangers in Game 3 of the ALDS. He allowed one run over 6 1/3 innings in a victory that kept his team alive, then did the same in Game 5 of the ALCS vs. the Royals.

This wasn't one of those elimination games, but it was still a crucial first step toward Toronto taking control of the series.

Estrada succeeded the same way he always does. He used pinpoint command of his fastball-changeup combination to keep hitters off balance all game. He spent most of his outing using upper-80s velocity, and of his 98 pitches, seven were curveballs. By this point, most teams know what to expect, but for the last two years, it hadn't really mattered.

Estrada on big-game pressures

"I caught him in Milwaukee for four years," Texas catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I know what he does. He has the super changeup, and it comes out of the same arm slot as the fastball. It's hard to pick up between the two of them. He did a great job."

Estrada retired 12 consecutive batters at one point and was three outs from not only the first shutout of his career but also his first complete game before the Rangers spoiled the party late. Elvis Andrus hit a leadoff triple in the ninth and scored on a grounder to first, which prompted Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to remove Estrada from the game.

Despite falling two outs shy of Toronto's first complete game of the season, it was an impressive night from start to finish for a man who has become one of the top finesse pitchers in the game.

"He makes my job easy," catcher Russell Martin said. "I put a target out there, and it just seems like he hits the target. I could be blindfolded sometimes when he's pitching out there. He just has that ability. It's not really something you can teach, command. He just has that natural ability to hit his spots like no other."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.