TORONTO — Marco Estrada has developed the reputation for being unflappable in elimination games.
The veteran right-hander said his approach will stay the same Wednesday when he starts for the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians at the Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays stayed alive Tuesday and avoided being swept with a 5-1 victory in Game 4. They still trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series as Estrada faces rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt.
Estrada helped the Blue Jays stave off elimination last year by beating the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series and the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
“I treat every game the same,” Estrada said. “I don’t put any extra pressure on myself. There’s already enough pressure from the fans, from everybody. I just think about it, honestly, as another game and I’m pretty relaxed when I’m out there. Maybe there’s a little more adrenaline going, which I think has helped me out. It helps me focus a little bit more.”
The 33-year-old Estrada is 3-2 with a 2.59 ERA in nine career postseason games, including five starts. He lost Game 1 of this series despite pitching the first complete game by a Blue Jays pitcher this season, giving up two runs and six hits in eight innings with six strikeouts and one walk.
“I try to keep it simple,” Estrada said. “I’ve got to throw strikes and that’s the name of the game, throw strikes, get ahead. My job is to try to give the guys as many innings as possible and try to shut the other team out.”
Merritt is getting the call for the Indians as they again try to close out the series because their Nos. 2-4 starters are all injured — right-handers Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer.
Merritt debuted with the Indians this season, going 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA, but made only one start in four appearances. He won that start, holding the Kansas City Royals to one run and three hits in five innings on Sept. 30.
However, the Indians had already clinched the AL Central and the defending World Series champion Royals had been eliminated from playoff contention. There will a whole lot more at stake in Game 5.
“With our experience in our lineup, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be shaking more in his boots more than we are,” Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista said.
Merritt was ranked as the Indians’ No. 22 prospect coming into this season and the 24-year-old went 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts.
Cleveland’s 16th-round draft pick in 2011 from McAllen Community College in Waco, Texas is most noted for his control; he averaged just 1.4 walks per nine innings over 684.1 minor leagues innings while allowing 9.3 hits per nine and striking out 6.2 per nine.
Estrada went 9-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 29 starts during the regular season, his ninth in the major leagues.
Holding a seemingly large edge in the Game 5 pitching matchup along with the victory in Game 4 have the Blue Jays believing they could become the second team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series.
The other was the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who rallied to beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Those Red Sox happened to be managed by Terry Francona, who now holds the same job with the Indians.
“I feel like our team is capable of winning this entire thing,” Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “That’s more of the bigger picture. Where we have to take it right now is focusing from the first pitch to the final out.”