The Toronto Blue Jays jumped all over Cole Hamels and beat the Texas Rangers in a blowout, 10-1, in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday afternoon in Arlington.
One year after these two teams waged battle in a hard-fought ALDS that went the full five games, including four wins by the road team, it seemed only fitting that the road team won the opener on Thursday — though perhaps not quite in the easy fashion that the Blue Jays did.
Marco Estrada held the Rangers at bay all game, allowing only four hits and no walks, pitching scoreless ball into the ninth inning before allowing his first run. Estrada ended his day with 8⅓ innings, two outs shy of what would have been the first complete game of his career.
The only complete game by Toronto in the postseason was by Jack Morris in Game 1 of the 1992 ALCS, though Morris lost.
Five straight batters reached base against Hamels in the third inning on Thursday, with the key hit a bases-loaded triple by Troy Tulowitzki. It flew just out of the reach of Ian Desmond, the longtime shortstop playing center field who looked very much like a former shortstop playing center field while pursuing the ball.
“In that situation you have to do a little wall-banging here if you’re the outfielder if you think you can still get to it. It looked like he thought he didn’t because he pulled up and was still reaching,” said normally vanilla analyst Joe Simpson on the TBS broadcast. “You’ve got to be willing to crash into the wall to try and go get this, with the bases loaded.”
Hamels was undressed in that third inning, needing 42 pitches to complete the frame while allowing five runs. All the damage came with two outs.
The veteran left-hander entered Thursday with a 3.03 ERA in 15 postseason starts, and had allowed more than four runs in a game just twice in the playoffs, maxing out at five runs allowed. But after the five-run frame, the Jays weren’t done, tacking on two more in the fourth inning to end Hamels’ day.
Hamels now owns a 3.48 postseason ERA, in 16 starts.
Josh Donaldson had four hits, including two doubles, and drove in two runs in the win for the Blue Jays.
Jose Bautista added a three-run home run in the ninth inning to give the Jays their fourth postseason game in franchise history scoring double-digit runs.
All that offense was more than enough support for Estrada, who continues his steady role for the Blue Jays. The 33-year-old was an All-Star for the first time this season, putting up a 3.48 ERA in 29 starts in the first year of a two-year, $26 million contract he signed last winter to return to Toronto.
In 2015, Estrada helped the Jays get to the ALCS with three solid starts, putting up a 2.33 ERA with 15 strikeouts and just one walk in October.
He followed that up on Thursday by pitching into the ninth in Game 1, allowing only four hits and a run while striking out six, with no walks.
Upton goes deep
Melvin Upton homered in the fourth inning against Hamels, conjuring up thoughts of postseasons past. Upton burst onto the scene with seven home runs in the first two rounds of his first playoff season at age 23 in 2008, helping the Rays advance to the World Series to play Hamels’ Phillies.
But in 18 games and 63 postseason plate appearances since, Upton went without a home run. A trade deadline acquisition by the Blue Jays in 2016, Upton struggled down the stretch, hitting .196/.261/.318 in 57 games and 165 plate appearances for Toronto in the regular season.
With the home run, Upton is a career .257/.317/.550 with eight home runs in 30 playoff games.
Game 2 in this series will be held on Friday with another early start, at 1:08 p.m. PT. It will be the first of four MLB playoff games on Friday. J.A. Happ will start for Toronto, while Yu Darvish starts for the Rangers.