It was unseasonably warm for an October day, if not unseasonably warm in Texas, as the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays squared off in the first game of the American League Divisional Series.
Texas sent ace Cole Hamels to the mound against Toronto’s second starter Marco Estrada, and it was the latter who prevailed in what was advertised as a pitchers’ duel, but turned into a blowout. In fact, Estrada didn’t just prevail, he dominated for 8 1/3 innings, holding the Rangers to just one run with Texas waiting until the ninth inning to finally score.
For a game between two touted offensive powerhouses, it began slowly, with each team only collecting one baserunner through two innings. Hamels walked Josh Donaldson in the top of the first, though he was not advanced.
For the Rangers, Adrián Beltré collected the first hit in the bottom of the second inning, grounding what should have been a routine out to Toronto first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, if not for Estrada not covering first. Beltré was left stranded there, though, as the next three Rangers flew out, struck out, and grounded out in order.
Though the Rangers opened the hitting, Toronto opened the scoring. A sharply hit ball from Donaldson bounced off Beltré’s glove into left field, allowing Ezequiel Carrera to score from second, where he’d advanced after a walk and a wild pitch. Donaldson moved to third on a single off Hamels’ glove from Encarnacion, and scored after a single to centerfield from José Bautista. Another walk, this time to Russell Martin, loaded the bases, and all three runners scored on Troy Tulowitzki’s triple, giving the Blue Jays a 5-0 lead.
Marco Estrada proceeded to sit down the Rangers hitters quickly in order in the bottom of the third on 12 pitches, and a clearly tired Hamels game back out for the top of the fourth. A third-pitch home run to Melvin Upton Jr. gave the Jays a lead the Rangers wouldn’t challenge, and in fact, a lead Toronto would augment with a run-scoring single from Donaldson.
Hamels departed the game having given up seven runs, six earned on six hits in 3 1/3 innings, giving up a solo home run and only recording one strikeout.
Slingy sidearmer Alex Claudio came on in relief of Hamels and got the final two outs of the inning on consecutive fly-outs, though the damage had been done. Claudio then went 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, helped out by a stellar two-out, one-on catch from Carlos Gomez in left field up against the out-of-town scoreboard in the top of the sixth.
After Adrián Beltré’s second inning single, the Rangers weren’t able to muster anything else off Toronto starter Estrada through the next five innings. The first batter of the sixth inning, Elvis Andrus, singled to center field, breaking up the “if-he’d-covered-first perfect game.”
Andrus was caught stealing, however, erasing the Rangers’ hopes of sparking a rally, and Estrada was able to get through the bottom of the sixth unscathed. With the score out of hand, the Rangers did nothing much for the rest of the game at the plate.
Tony Barnette gave up a two-out single to Ezequiel Carrera, but retired Devon Travis to maintain the four-inning postseason scoreless streak for the Texas bullpen. Both bullpens will still be rested going into the next game, with Estrada’s 8 1/3 innings meaning Toronto only needed to call on just one reliever to close out the game, and Alex Claudio’s work gave Texas a chance to save their bigger relief guns for future, potentially closer, scores.
But even the Texas bullpen showed cracks as, in the waning outs of this game, Jake Diekman gave up a no-out three-run home run to José Bautista, putting the game completely out of reach of the Rangers, if such a thing needed to be said. In the bottom of the ninth, Elvis Andrus tripled off the previously impervious Marco Estrada, and scored on a Shin-Soo Choo groundout, ending Estrada’s night and giving the Rangers a modicum of consolation in a terrible game.
First pitch of Game Two of the ALDS will be thrown at approximately noon tomorrow at Globe Life Park, featuring Toronto starter J.A. Happ against Texas’ Yu Darvish. Game Three, and if needed, Game Four, will shift to Toronto.
Josh Donaldson: 4-4 (2 2B), BB
Jose Bautista: 2-4 (HR), BB
Alex Claudio: 3 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2BB, 0 R
Elvis Andrus: 2-3 (3B)