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Estrada plays stopper in Blue Jays' victory

Righty proves standout season no fluke with ALDS Game 3 gem

ARLINGTON -- The Blue Jays needed a stopper Sunday night, much like they needed a starter early in the year. Again, Marco Estrada answered.

After 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in a 5-1 win over Texas, Sanchez has kept Toronto alive in its American League Division Series. The Blue Jays now trail, 2-1, in the best-of-five series heading into Game 4 here on Monday (4 p.m. ET Sportsnet/FOX Sports 1).

"Job well done," manager John Gibbons said, "but he's been doing that all year."

:: ALDS: Rangers vs. Blue Jays -- Tune-in info ::

If he hadn't, the Blue Jays wouldn't have gotten this far. After opening the season in the bullpen, Estrada stepped into the rotation in May and never left, delivering a 13-8 record and 3.13 ERA that marked the best season of his eight-year career. However, postseason play has a tendency to expose sudden seasons like this.

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Instead, Estrada backed it up, quieting a Rangers offense that had topped David Price and Marcus Stroman before him.

"I really felt like Estrada kept us off balance with a changeup, just enough breaking balls to get us off the changeup and the fastball," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "He moved the fastball around. He was throwing fastballs up in the zone enough that when he threw the changeup down and fastball down, we weren't getting good swings.

"That's what Estrada does, I've seen him before. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to a guy that pitches very well. And felt like Estrada had good command of what he wanted to do and we just couldn't seem to find the barrel off of him."

Estrada mixed in a curveball that froze Rangers batters at times, including series-long pest Rougned Odor on a called third strike with a runner on in the fifth. He also threw a cutter for outs on contact against left-handed hitters.

Video: [email protected] Gm3: Estrada on crucial Game 3 Start

"He uses all of his pitches," said catcher Dioner Navarro, who has formed an effective working relationship, catching him over the past couple months. "I believe coming into this season, he was a fastball-changeup guy and we kind of started working with the curveball and the cutter and he uses all of his pitches with conviction. He just did a good job, he keeps the hitters off balance and he's just a great pitcher."

The result was impressive. Estrada retired the first eight Rangers he faced, and 16 of the first 18. Hanser Alberto's third-inning double and Josh Hamilton's fifth-inning single were the only baserunners Estrada allowed in that span.

The Rangers managed just two runners in scoring position through the first six innings, in both cases with two outs, denying any opportunity to play small ball. Estrada stranded Alberto in the third by putting Delino DeShields in an 0-2 count and getting a fly ball, then stranded DeShields in the sixth with a Prince Fielder groundout.

Aside from Hamilton's single, Estrada held down Texas' left-handed hitting in the middle of the order. According to Inside Edge, left-handed hitters missed on 10 of 22 swings against him Sunday, his best rate in two seasons.

Just as important, Estrada avoided the free baserunners that came back to haunt Price and Stroman before him. Estrada didn't walk a batter, despite a half-dozen three-ball counts.

Video: [email protected] Gm3: Tulowitzki, Estrada on 5-1 win in Texas

The results continued a strong stretch run for Estrada, who allowed just 46 hits over 76 1/3 innings over his final 12 regular-season starts.

"He has been that kind of unsung guy that nobody really talks about a whole lot and he has been huge," Josh Donaldson said. "He stepped up in a big way for us tonight."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Marco Estrada