By Gregor Chisholm and Keegan Matheson
TORONTO -- Marco Estrada got the best of Texas during the 2015 and 2016 American League Division Series. Now he owns the early bragging rights for 2017 as well.
Estrada's early-season dominance continued, as he outdueled Yu Darvish to push the Blue Jays' winning streak to five games with a 3-1 victory over Texas on Saturday afternoon. Estrada surrendered a homer to Shin-Soo Choo to lead off the game but didn't allow another run the rest of the way as he scattered four hits and a walk over six innings.
The veteran righty also finished with eight strikeouts as his fastball-changeup combination continues to generate a lot of swings and misses. Estrada has struck out 78 batters over 68 2/3 innings, which ranks third in the American League behind Boston's Chris Sale and Tampa Bay's Chris Archer. Estrada has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts this season, and now has a 3.15 ERA.
"I liked everything," Estrada said of his outing. "We were locating fastballs, changeups. I threw some decent curveballs. I threw one good cutter, the other one wasn't too good, but overall, the pitches were just working."
Jose Bautista delivered the big blow on offense with a three-run homer to left, his ninth long ball of the season and eighth of May. That one at-bat was enough to spoil an otherwise strong outing from Darvish, who allowed just those three runs on five hits but did walk three batters and hit two others with at times erratic control. It was Darvish's first loss since April 18 at Oakland.
"I thought Darvish threw the ball extremely well," said Rangers manager Jeff Banister. "One inning, the fifth inning, got away from him a little bit. It was a couple of hanging sliders, one to Bautista."
Choo led off the game with a home run for the 21st time in his career and first time this season. The shot to deep center was his fifth homer of the year, but it also turned out to be the only offense the Rangers could generate off Estrada and the Blue Jays' bullpen. Texas didn't have that many opportunities, as the club finished 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position while stranding five men on base.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bautista goes deep: Toronto did not look like it would be able to do much of anything against Darvish until Bautista stepped to the plate with a couple of runners on in the bottom of the fifth. Toronto's right fielder sent the first pitch he saw over the wall in left field for a three-run shot. According to Statcast™, the no-doubter was projected to travel 381 feet and left his bat at 102 mph. Bautista's latest home run came on a poorly located slider from Darvish -- he left the pitch up in the zone -- and was one of the few mistakes the Texas righty made on the day.
"He just missed up with it, and I was lucky enough to get enough of it to hit it out of the park," Bautista said.
Caught looking: With the Rangers leading by one in the top of the fourth, Texas had a perfect opportunity to tack on some much-needed insurance runs with a pair of runners on base for Joey Gallo. Estrada got ahead 1-2, but Gallo eventually worked the count full before he struck out looking on a 91-mph fastball located on the outer half of the plate. That was the only at-bat the Rangers would have with a man in scoring position until the eighth inning.
"He got frozen on a fastball. That happens," said Banister. "Joey's been swinging the bat well. I don't think he's up there looking, thinking that a pitcher is going to throw a ball out of the zone in that situation with a 3-2 count."
"The first conversation we had -- Joe's a big country music fan -- and he actually sings. I told him my daughter is playing tonight, I told him where, and I wanted to know if he wanted tickets. That was the first conversation." -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, on one of the two on-field conversations he had with home-plate umpire Joe West.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Blue Jays have scored at least three runs in their past 16 games, which is the longest run in the AL this season and Toronto's longest stretch since 2010.
Prior to Saturday afternoon, the last time a Blue Jays pitcher allowed a home run on the first pitch of the game was Brandon Morrow on Aug. 28, 2011, vs. the Rays (Desmond Jennings).
HOYING COVERS SERIOUS GROUND FOR HIGHLIGHT GRAB
Texas center fielder Jared Hoying robbed Kevin Pillar of extra bases and a possible RBI in the bottom of the fifth. Pillar drove the ball 393 feet, but Hoying covered 98 feet in just 5.4 seconds, topping out at a maximum per-second speed of 29.1 feet. Hoying managed to hold on after crashing into the wall and, despite staying down and looking to be in pain, he stayed in the game.
ODOR OUT ON GOINS' NICE PLAY Rougned Odor was called out on a very close play in the ninth after chopping a slow grounder past Toronto closer Roberto Osuna on the right side. Second baseman Ryan Goins scooped the ball to first base using only his glove to retire Odor, who slid into the bag. The call was confirmed after a short review.
WHAT'S NEXT Rangers:Andrew Cashner (1-4, 3.18 ERA) will close out the series for Texas on Sunday at Rogers Centre. First pitch is at 12:07 p.m. CT. Despite his tidy ERA, he has struggled to rack up strikeouts in 2017. Through eight starts, Cashner has struck out more than three batters just once.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Joe Biagini (1-2, 3.75) will take the mound for the Blue Jays when their series vs. the Rangers wraps up Sunday afternoon at 1:07 p.m. ET. This will be Biagini's fifth start of the season, but he has yet to throw more than five innings in an outing. He likely will be in the range of 90 pitches for this outing.