CLEVELAND -- Marco Estrada has come through for the Blue Jays time and time again during the postseason over the past two years. He did more of the same on Friday night, but unfortunately for him, one simple mistake overshadowed everything else.
Estrada was borderline flawless with the exception of a poorly located changeup in the sixth inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Francisco Lindor made him pay with a two-run homer to right-center, and in the midst of a pitchers' duel vs. Corey Kluber, that was the difference in Cleveland's 2-0 victory. Game 2 of the ALCS is scheduled for Saturday (4 p.m. ET on TBS in the U.S., as well as Sportsnet and RDS in Canada).
Lindor's at-bat started off innocently enough, as Estrada got ahead in the count, 0-2. Russell Martin then called for a changeup, and the plan was to throw it low and outside, not anywhere close to the strike zone. That's not what ended up happening.
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"I kept the arm speed the same, I just kind of pulled it," said Estrada, who tossed the first complete game of his career in the loss. "I don't know what happened. I was trying to bounce it, to be honest with you. The count was 0-2, if I would have got it down and away, he probably would have swung and missed. But I yanked it, and he hit it out. He's a good hitter. That's what happens. You make mistakes, good hitters are going to hit it out."
Estrada scattered six hits and walked just one while striking out six over eight innings. He became the first Toronto starter to throw a complete game this year and only the second Blue Jays pitcher to toss one during the postseason. The only other time it happened was Jack Morris on Oct. 7, 1992, which also came in a losing effort during Game 1 of an ALCS against the A's.
The 33-year-old Estrada did not deserve the loss, but he still got it thanks to a lack of run support, which is a carryover from the regular season. Estrada had the seventh-lowest run support of any starter in the AL at 3.93, which also ranked last in Toronto's rotation.
The lack of runs is the main reason why Estrada finished the year with just nine wins despite posting a 3.48 ERA over 29 starts. He deserved a much better fate Friday, but with such a small margin for error, one mistake was all it took.
"At some point, somebody was going to have to hit a changeup, just because of the way he was going back and forth," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I actually thought he threw maybe more fastballs early than we expected, but his changeup is so good, you can look for it and still not hit it. It might be the best changeup in the game. There's deception to go with it. Frankie has good, strong hands, and sometimes you get a changeup up a little bit and they'll tend to go out."
Unless the Indians somehow pull off a four-game sweep, Estrada will get to pitch at least once more during the ALCS. He's tentatively scheduled for Game 5 in Toronto (4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, if necessary), and instead of looking to make a lot of adjustments, he'll be looking to do more of the same. Only this time with more offense behind him.
Even after Friday's loss, Estrada has the eighth-best WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in postseason history among qualified pitchers, at .84. He trails an impressive group that includes Monte Pearson (.729), Roy Halladay (.737), Jim Lonborg (.780), Sandy Koufax (.825) and Christy Mathewson (.836). Estrada has done his part, the rest of the Blue Jays will need to do theirs.
"He did a great job," Blue Jays right fielder José Bautista said. "One pitch put two runs on the board, but when you're out there against a playoff team that can scrap and have good at-bats and get their knocks, he shut everything down except for that one pitch Lindor hit out. He did a terrific job, he gave us a chance, we just weren't able to get him the runs that he needed."