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Estrada steps up in playoff-like atmosphere

MLB.com @gregorMLB

SEATTLE -- Marco Estrada seems to save his best for when the Blue Jays' backs are against the wall. Just when it appears the entire country is on the verge of a full-blown panic attack, he finds a way to restore order.

Estrada bounced back from a series of rough outings on Monday night to come through when Toronto needed him the most. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, struck out eight and didn't allow a run in the Blue Jays' 3-2 victory over the Mariners.

Full Game Coverage

SEATTLE -- Marco Estrada seems to save his best for when the Blue Jays' backs are against the wall. Just when it appears the entire country is on the verge of a full-blown panic attack, he finds a way to restore order.

Estrada bounced back from a series of rough outings on Monday night to come through when Toronto needed him the most. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, struck out eight and didn't allow a run in the Blue Jays' 3-2 victory over the Mariners.

Full Game Coverage

Toronto wasn't facing a must-win situation at Safeco Field, but it sure felt that way. The Blue Jays entered with the worst record (5-11) in the American League this month and while they still maintained a Wild Card spot it seemed to be slipping away. At least for one night, Estrada changed all of that.

"Marco really stepped up, and it reminded me a lot of that playoff game against Kansas City last year," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "When we really needed a win, he went deep into the game, and with the fans, he got rewarded for it."

Estrada, whose no-hitter was broken up by Robinson Cano in the seventh inning, garnered his reputation of being a big-game pitcher during last year's AL Division Series vs. the Rangers. Toronto was facing a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series when Estrada kept his team alive by allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings.

There was a similar scenario during the next round, when Estrada took the mound in Game 5 with his club trailing 3-1 in the AL Championship Series. Estrada once again kept his team in it by limiting the Royals to one run over 7 2/3 innings. He left the field at Rogers Centre that day to a thunderous standing ovation that he called one of the best moments of his life. There was another one of those moments in Seattle.

Thousands of Canadians made the trip south for this series. It's a popular destination and a short drive for a lot of baseball fans from the western part of the country and they made their presence felt early and often. When Estrada finally walked off the mound with a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning there was another deafening ovation from a sea of blue.

"It was pretty close to it," Estrada said when comparing the two moments. "It's incredible how many fans showed up for this game. I'm sure it's going to be like this the next two days. It's awesome being a Blue Jay and seeing all of the love and support we're getting from all of Canada. ... It gave us a lot of energy in the dugout, we were all very excited to be here. It's just a lot of fun playing in front of so many fans."

Estrada didn't get the no-hitter, but the personal accolades can wait until another day. The most important thing for the Blue Jays is that they use this game to start heading into the right direction again.

Toronto has a chance to win its first series of the month with a victory on Tuesday or Wednesday, but the club will be looking to take both and deal the Mariners chances of the postseason a final blow.

"We saw what he was able to do last year and pitch in big games and this was a big game for us," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "We got off to a good start in Anaheim and kind of didn't show up the last two days. For him to come out here, after not pitching well his last couple of starts, to come out and step up and do what big game pitchers do was awesome to see."

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.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marco Estrada