TORONTO — Advantage Texas Rangers.
The underdog AL West champions, no strangers to being written off, spoiled the Blue Jays’ long-awaited return to the post-season Thursday, beating Toronto ace David Price en route to a 5-3 win.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister sends Cole Hamels, his marquee man, to the mound Friday afternoon to face Marcus Stroman in Game 2.
There’s a ways to go in the best-of-five series, but Texas is smiling while Canada has its fingers crossed.
“I care a ton,” said a disappointed Price. “I want to go out there and pitch well for my teammates and pitch well for this country and I didn’t do that today.”
A sellout crowd of 49,834, waving rally towels, lived and died with every pitch under the roof at the Rogers Centre, which last saw playoff action in 1993 when the Jays won a second straight World Series. Russell Martin, the Jays’ Canadian catcher, called the atmosphere “awesome.”
“The fans were great. Good energy, from start to finish,” he said. “The only thing that wasn’t good was the result.”
Countless other Canadians took in the game from further afield as baseball took centre stage at the start of hockey season.
Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos homered and combined to score four of the Rangers’ runs as the bottom of the Texas order took its toll on Price, who was pitching on 11 days rest.
Price, who left after seven innings, gave up five earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and two walks. He threw 90 pitches, 59 for strikes in taking the loss.
“That’s baseball. If you don’t like it, pitch better,” he said, quoting a slogan that hangs in his locker. “That’s something I always say. I definitely don’t like the result of what happened today but there’s a lot of things that were in my control today and I didn’t control those things.”
Price, who did not hit a batter as a Jay during the regular season, hit Odor twice in five innings — a Toronto playoff record. Both times the Texas second baseman came home to score.
Odor, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, is the second-youngest player to score three runs in a post-season game, according to ESPN Stats. Only Andruw Jones in the 1996 World Series was younger.
For all his regular-season exploits, Price has lost six straight in the playoffs since a win over Boston in 2008.
“It’s been about seven years so I want that monkey off my back,” Price said. “I expect to have better results out there on the field. I didn’t throw the ball the way that I’m capable of today and I’ll be ready to go whenever it’s my turn again.”
The Rangers never trailed, scoring twice in the third and fifth before adding a single run in the seventh. Toronto, limited to single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth, outhit Texas 6-5 but was only 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Jays manager John Gibbons called it one of those games.
“He (Price) didn’t give up many hits. The key ones were the two home runs, the two-runner by Chirinos and then Odor getting him later, that was really the difference in the game,” said Gibbons.
Texas only won two of six games against Toronto this season and Yovani Gallardo was on the mound for both. He started strongly Thursday, retiring the first nine Jays he faced before exiting after five innings with a 4-2 lead.
Rangers manager Jeff Bannister, whose Rangers seemed to come into the series with a chip on their shoulder given the attention on the Jays, pointed to his team’s resolve in the wake of the win
“We’ve got a very confident group of guys,” he said. “We’ve got a group of guys that they absolutely love playing together and they’ve been up against it all year long since spring training.”