Estrada's perfection makes Morales' heroism possible for Blue Jays

Nick Ashbourne

On Saturday afternoon, the Toronto Blue Jays got the hit they’ve been waiting for all week.

The first pitch of the bottom of the ninth was a curveball down the middle and Kendrys Morales sent it express into the right-field seats 413 feet away from home. He rounded the bases a hero and has a chance to be remembered as the guy who plucked the Blue Jays from one of their worst-ever tailspins in a 2-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

With one lightning-quick swing of the bat, Morales made the Rogers Centre feel alive again – which is more than anyone else could accomplish since the Blue Jays arrived home.

“We’re struggling and he have to start somewhere,” the Cuban slugger said through translator Josue Peley. “So hopefully this win will takes us further.”

The designated hitter certainly deserves credit for ambushing a Tyler Wilson curveball, and bringing the game – and the Blue Jays suffering – to an end, even if they’re not exactly out of the woods. A rowdy celebration at home plate couldn’t disguise the fact the Blue Jays scored just two runs on Saturday – the fifth time in their last seven they’ve managed two or fewer.

Sure, this was a game punctuated by a home run, but it was won by pitching – more specifically Marco Estrada’s pitching.

“It all started with Marco on the mound,” manager John Gibbons said after the game. “I’ve seen it plenty of times, you guys have seen it plenty of times. He can pitch in big games and he can shut down some of the better hitters in baseball in his own style.”

The Toronto Blue Jays couldn’t have asked for more from Marco Estrada on Saturday. (Fred Thornhill/AP)

Estrada toyed with the Orioles for seven innings on the way to a scoreless eight-strikeout day. The right-hander allowed a hard-hit double to the first batter he faced and wouldn’t get touched with any kind of authority again until the seventh. Making the outing all the more impressive was the fact he was working with backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the first time in a game that counted.

“They clicked and [Estrada] was hitting his spots with really no mistakes like he had the other day in Tampa,” Gibbons said. “He threw a few more curveballs, which is always a big pitch for him and we like to see him do a little bit more of that.”

When asked about what made his start so effective, Estrada immediately credited Saltalamacchia’s influence on his performance.

“Honestly, it was the way Salty called the game,” he said. “I was just trying to follow him.”

The 33-year-old demonstrated a little of everything that’s made him so effective since joining the Blue Jays.

He peppered the top of the strike zone with elevated fastballs like the one he used to silence Adam Jones in the fifth.

The Orioles also found themselves swinging through air against his changeups like Wellington Castillo did in the same frame.

All day long, the swings were hard and the contact was soft.

By the time Estrada was done, the master of the lazy fly ball had allowed five balls in play with a hit probability below two percent (per Baseball Savant) and eight below 10 percent. The Blue Jays’ defenders were asked to do very little behind the Mexican hurler.

At the plate there was also very little demanded of Toronto as all the team needed was a single run for Estrada. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be too extravagant an ask, but for the Blue Jays’ current stretch it was a Herculean effort. Prior to the walk-off home run from Morales, the team managed just five hits all night long – and not one of the extra-base variety.

Even when they scratched across a run in the seventh, the lead was coughed up by Roberto Osuna in the ninth, ensuring Estrada couldn’t get the “W”.

In terms of raw theatrics, a walk-off home run is pretty much unbeatable, but the Blue Jays ended their losing streak on Saturday because they got their best pitching performance of the season. While Morales will get the glory, you don’t win 2-1 on the strength of your offence.

Crushing one bad pitch is great. Tossing out 109 near-perfect ones is special.