TORONTO — Marco Estrada took up where he left off last season, throwing the Blue Jays an early-season lifeline after four straight losses.
The Toronto right-hander, making his season debut after a sore back limited him in spring training, threw seven shutout innings and Josh Donaldson belted his fourth homer in a 3-0 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday before a Rogers Centre sellout of 46,158.
After three blown save opportunities by the bullpen and a difficult outing for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Toronto (3-4) needed some shutdown pitching. Estrada obliged in his 100th career start, showing why the Jays rewarded him in the off-season with a US$26-million, two-year contract.
“I really didn’t know what to expect going into this game, the way his spring training went,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “But it was vintage Estrada. It really was.”
“It’s early in the season but we needed that game,” he added.
Everything is magnified this early in the season, Gibbons noted, especially to a team that fell just short of making the World Series last year.
“We know we have a good ball club,” Gibbons continued. “But with the enthusiasm that’s running around here you want to at least get off to a decent start to keep that going. You don’t want the naysayers to start jumping off that wagon.”
“We don’t want anyone panicking, that’s for sure,” he said with a smile.
Boston (3-2) could not make it three come-from-behind wins in a row as the Toronto bullpen, in the person of Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna, did its job. Osuna gave up a single but struck out three in the ninth for his third save.
Donaldson provided some late excitement with a booming blast to the second deck in left-centre field off Boston reliever Noe Ramirez to open the eighth. Eighteen of the Jays’ 29 runs have been scored by the long ball this season, with nine home runs in seven games.
Estrada (1-0) outduelled Boston knuckleballer Steven Wright, who blanked the Jays for 5 2/3 innings after giving up two runs in the first.
Estrada shut down a Boston team that had scored 28 runs in its first four games, including 16 in the previous two in Toronto. Despite the sparkling performance, he said he has more to give.
“I felt pretty good. Still a little off. Things are going to get better,” he said. “(I’m) not quite 100 per cent with a feel for things, but it’s really close.”