Estrada-Navarro battery results too compelling to ignore

Edwin Encarnacion scored in the ninth inning and the Toronto Blue Jays rallied to defeat the Baltimore Orioles.

BALTIMORE – The numbers when Marco Estrada throws to Dioner Navarro are too compelling to ignore, which is why the Toronto Blue Jays plan to keep them paired together through the post-season.

Manager John Gibbons said there’s no reason to disrupt a good thing, which continued Monday night with 7.1 innings of strong three-run ball from the right-hander in a 4-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, settled on Justin Smoak’s run-scoring fielder’s choice in the ninth inning.

RBI singles from Ben Revere and Jose Bautista, once again getting the better of old nemesis Darren O’Day (he’s now 7-for-18 with nine RBIs against the all-star reliever) tied things up in the eighth. Then in the ninth, Navarro led off with a single, pinch-runner Dalton Pompey advanced to second on Kevin Pillar’s base hit, took third on Ryan Goins’ sacrifice bunt and scored on Smoak’s weak nubber.

“I knew we were going to come back somehow,” said Estrada. “We just try to pick each other up and that’s what happened. … It’s incredible pitching for these guys, I get a lot of help, especially today, I got a lot of help from the outfielders and infielders, great defence all around and obviously Navvy called another great game.”

Brett Cecil recorded two outs in the eighth and diced up Chris Davis in the ninth to pick up the win, while Roberto Osuna closed things out for his 20th save, pushing Blue Jays to 91-65. Combined with the New York Yankees’ 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, their magic number for clinching the American League East is down to two.

The Blue Jays could be popping champagne again as soon as Tuesday night.

“It’s great, I’ve been here for a while and this is something that as a team we’ve been trying to play for for a long time, and finally I feel like all the pieces fit,” said Cecil, who broke in with the Blue Jays in 2009. “I can’t tell you how great a team this is, personality-wise, in the clubhouse, away from the field, on the field, it doesn’t matter, just a great group of guys. We’re having a lot of fun and that’s it.”

Estrada is certainly having fun in what’s been a career year for him, especially when Navarro is catching. In 19 starts together, he’s posted an earned-run average of 2.63 over 113 innings, about a run and a half better than the 4.11 he’s delivered over 61.1 innings in 14 games with Russell Martin behind the plate.

There are also drops of roughly 100 points in both OPS and batting average on balls in play for Estrada with Navarro, a body of work too big to discount.

“It’s awesome working the guy, he knows how to call a game, that’s for sure,” said Estrada. “I just try to follow, try to keep up with him as much as I can, I don’t really disagree with the guy ever. Like I’ve said before, if I hit the glove, I’m probably going to be pretty successful. …

“With those two guys back there, it doesn’t matter who it is, I feel really comfortable with both guys, maybe a little more with Navarro just because he’s caught me a bunch.”

The element of trust they’ve developed is pivotal.

“I’ve been in the big-leagues for almost 10 years now, and I’m a huge believer that the reason why I’ve been able to stay for so long is because of what I do behind the plate,” said Navarro. “The biggest thing is when they get to the point where they know they can trust me, that’s it. The first few starts, you don’t know the guy, what he likes to do, but once you get to know them, and once they get know what I’m trying to do, it’s a lot easier.”

While teams with a catcher of Martin’s calibre look to maximize the player during the post-season, worth keeping in mind is that Navarro is far better offensively than the typical backup. Put all the factors together, and it’s hard to argue against maintain the pairing.

“I think you have to, it has been so good,” said Gibbons.

Estrada’s sole blemish Monday came in the second, when he surrendered singles to Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop before Ryan Flaherty ripped a three-run homer that erased Edwin Encarnacion’s solo shot in the top half and put the Orioles up 3-1.

But Estrada settled from there, allowing just four hits and a walk in his 7.1 innings while inducing bad swing after bad swing.

“He was dynamite the rest of the way,” said Gibbons.

Chris Tillman, who had surrendered 31 earned runs over 18 innings in five starts versus the Blue Jays this year coming into this one, matched him for most of that time but left with the tying rally underway. He gave up two runs over 7.1 innings but ultimately couldn’t stop the tide.

And the Blue Jays went against the grain by playing some small-ball to plate the winning run.

“We can win in any way possible, this team is unbelievable,” said Smoak. “Great bunch of guys, fight to the end.”

That fight has them on the brink of claiming the American League East, and a berth in the division series. Once they get there, expect Estrada and Navarro to remain a dynamic duo.

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