TORONTO – Marco Estrada was near flawless in limiting the Royals to three hits over 7 2/3 innings and Troy Tulowitzki drove in three runs as the Blue Jays stayed alive in the American League Championship Series, defeating Kansas City 7-1 Wednesday to force a Game 6.
The Royals still hold an edge going home, leading the best-of-seven series 3-2. The teams go at it Friday in Kauffman Stadium, with left-hander David Price getting the start for Toronto. Game 7 goes there Saturday if needed.
Toronto, outscored 33-16 in the first four games and coming off a 14-2 humiliation in Game 4, needed a stopper and they got it once again in Estrada, who has quietly become a key player for the team.
“He’s a guy that’s carried us in a lot of ways,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s a master of what he does. It doesn’t always look pretty but he’s mastered it.
WATCH: ‘I think we’re all playing hard’: Jose Bautista on Blue Jays winning Game 5
The 32-year-old right-hander rescued the Jays with a victory in Game 3 of the ALDS in Texas, limiting theRangers to one run in 6 1/3 innings in the first of Toronto’s must-win games this post-season.
Estrada was on point again in a sparkling performance Wednesday, retiring the first nine Kansas City batters. With a double play erasing a fourth-inning single, Estrada faced the minimum 18 batters over six innings.
“I had a lot of adrenalin going,” Estrada said. “The last game (Game 3 of ALDS) I was pretty calm, cool 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.”
READ MORE: Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki delivers key hit in Game 5 victory
A two-out walk in the seventh was the only other blemish on his pitching line as he retired 21 of 22 in the first seven innings.
He exited in the eighth to a standing ovation after giving up a two-out solo homer to Salvador Perez followed by a single to Alex Gordon.
“Today he was absolutely dynamite,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Estrada.
Tulowitzki, whose once cold bat has warmed up nicely, accounted for most of the offence by clearing the bases with a double in a four-run sixth.
“It’s a tough game, sometimes you go through rough patches, sometimes you swing the bat well,” Tulowitzki said. “Just lately I’ve been putting better swings.”
Royals starter Edinson Volquez, who had a fine outing in Game 1 to beat Estrada, was almost as good Wednesday – retiring 15 of the first 18 batters he faced. But he unravelled in the sixth, walking three Jays and hitting another with a pitch while unable to get an out.
That set the stage for Tulowitzki.
The Jays shortstop, still feeling the effects of a late-season shoulder injury, came into the game hitting just .194 (7-for-36) but he has been a game-changer with the bat in three of Toronto’s post-season outings. And despite playing in pain, he has been a big contributor to the defence.
Tulowitzki set a club record for most RBIs in a single ALCS (seven). And his 11 RBIs are second only to Paul Molitor (13 in 1993) among Jays in a single post-season.
WATCH: Fans in Kansas City react to Blue Jays winning Game 5
Chris Colabello had opened the scoring with a second-inning solo homer before an enthusiastic, loud crowd of 49,325 under the dome at the Rogers Centre.
It was Toronto’s fourth elimination game of the playoffs and the Jays went into the game confident they could take the series back to Kansas City. The players’ suitcases were stacked neatly outside the clubhouse prior to Wednesday’s game, ready for transport to the airport.
The Royals opened the series with 5-0 and 6-3 home wins. Back in Toronto, the Jays rallied to win 11-8 before falling 14-2 in Game 4 at the Rogers Centre.
READ MORE: Bautista’s 10-pitch at-bat helps set up big inning in Blue Jays’ win
Estrada mowed down the first nine batters he faced. Alcides Escobar ended the streak with a leadoff single in the fourth but was promptly doubled up by Ben Zobrist’s groundout.
Volquez, the crowd chanting his name derisively, was just as impressive – hitting speeds of 98 m.p.h.- until he ran into Colabello with one out in the second. Down 0-2 in the count, the Jays first baseman knocked a solo shot deep to left-centre for a 1-0 lead.
Aside from the homer, the only blemish on Volquez’s first three innings was a walk. He gave up a single in each of the fourth and fifth.
Ben Revere led off the Toronto half of the sixth with a seven-pitch walk. Volquez then hit Josh Donaldson – as he did in an ill-tempered game back in August – on the elbow protector. With the crowd on its feet, Jose Bautista then loaded the bases with a 10-pitch walk.
WATCH: David Price to start Game 6: John Gibbons
Volquez walked Edwin Encarnacion to bring in run and prompt Royals manager Ned Yost to call for reliever Kelvin Herrera. Volquez threw 24 pitches but could not get an out in the inning.
Herrera struck out Colabello but Tulowitzki cleared the bases with a double for a 5-0 lead.
Volquez gave up five runs on three hits with four walks and two strikeouts in an 88-pitch outing.
Back-to-back two-out doubles by Donaldson and Bautista upped the lead to 6-0 in the seventh. Bautista has eight RBIs in 10 games this post-season, reaching base safely in all 10 games.
Aaron Sanchez came in for Estrada, who struck out five and walked one, to get the final out in the eight.
After Tulowitzki singled in the eighth, Kevin Pillar drove him home with two outs to make 7-1 but was caught trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
READ MORE: Hope abounds for Blue Jays fans after Game 5 victory over Royals
Toronto closer Roberto Osuna worked a 1-2-3 ninth.
History and momentum were on Kansas City’s side as the Royals looked to retain the AL pennant.
Wednesday marked the 80th time in LCS or World Series history that a team held a 3-1 lead. In the 79 previous occasions, 67 of the teams (85 per cent) that led went on to win the series.
In ALCS play, only four of 17 teams trailing 3-1 have rallied to win the series.
“They’re just beating us right now, I mean they’re outplaying us,” Gibbons said of the Royals prior to the game. “Really that’s the story.”
WATCH: Tulowitzki, Estrada talk winning Game 5, fans, teammates
Gibbons pointed to Kansas City’s depth and the fact that the Royals are on a roll at the plate.
“They’re hotter than fire with those bats,” he said.
Going into play Wednesday, the Royals were outhitting (.284 to .230), outscoring (58 to 42) and outslugging Toronto (.469 to .388) and had more home runs (12 to 11).
Toronto’s ERA over the first four games of the ALCS was 8.47, compared to 4.11 for Kansas City. And the Royals were hitting .331 with runners on compared to .221 for the Jays.
But Estrada cooled the Royals bats. And Tulowitzki delivered some firepower of his own.