ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – This wasn’t quite on par with Dave Stieb, who in 1988 dealt with the heartache of losing no-hit bids with two out in the ninth in consecutive starts, but it was pretty close.
Two starts in a row Marco Estrada carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning – the first pitcher to do so since the iconic Toronto Blue Jays right-hander – and both times they were broken up, first by Jimmy Paredes with a solid single leading off the frame last Friday, and then by Logan Forsythe, who beat out a weak chopper to third to end a bid for perfection Wednesday afternoon.
“It was a little frustrating because it wasn’t hit very hard,” said Estrada. “(Josh) Donaldson made a great play and the guy can run a little bit so he beat it out. It was fine, the ninth inning I gave up a hard-hit ball, base hit to (Kevin) Kiermaier and that made it a little better, it was easier to forget about.
“But I’m just glad we pulled this game off.”
Pull off the Blue Jays did, barely, in one of their most steely, gutsy – pick your adjective – victories of the season, a 1-0 triumph settled in the 12th inning when Chris Colabello hammered his sixth homer of the season to centre field and Steve Delabar convincingly nailed it down for his first save.
Despite his dominance, Estrada ended up with a no-decision in his team’s first win of the season when scoring less than three runs, a victory that gave them just a second series win at Tropicana Field since 2007.
“I’m proud of the guys, but that’s what they’re made of. It’s a more character team than we’ve had in the past,” praised manager John Gibbons, adding later: “That’s one of those games that can go a long way for you, and it can go the opposite way, too.”
Colabello’s homer came after both teams traded unlikely escapes, and immediately followed Brett Cecil getting out of a men on second and third, one-out jam in the 11th, and Bo Schultz easing out of a two-on, one-out bind in the 10th.
Colabello pumped his fist once the ball cleared as he was passing first base, a moment of relief after a pair of missed opportunities with a runner on third and less than two outs earlier on.
“I don’t think there was anybody that felt worse about the fact that we were 0-0 and Marco is throwing a perfect game into the eighth,” said Colabello. “Great job by the pitching staff, the defence, it’s a great team win.”
Did he know it was gone off the bat?
“If I had to give you a percentage, I was like 62 per cent sure,” replied Colabello.
At least the homer made sure Estrada’s effort didn’t go for naught.
Stieb suffered through several near misses before recording the only no-hitter in Blue Jays history Sept. 2, 1990 at Cleveland. Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan both lost no-hit bids in the ninth in recent years, and Estrada, owner of one of the best changeups in baseball, is an unlikely candidate to join Stieb in achieving the feat.
Still, he’s been money the past two times out, throwing a career-high 129 pitches and striking out a season-best 10 batters before being pulled after Kiermaier’s two-out double in the ninth, just the second hit off the right-hander.
Roberto Osuna took over and Joey Butler sent a grounder up the middle that Jose Reyes scooped, turned and fired for the out.
“You want to finish something like that, you don’t just want to go eight innings and give up a hit,” said Estrada. “It would have been a lot more special to me if I could have finished it, but these are extremely good lineups, every lineup in the AL East is extremely good, all you want to do is give the team innings and a chance to win. That’s what we did today.”
Reyes’ gem was one of several strong defensive plays for the Blue Jays, but by no means the best.
That one belonged to Donaldson, who chased a David DeJesus foul popper toward the stands and dove toward the second row, making the grab while landing atop a fan, legs knocking into a kid, holding on throughout.
Fate seemed to be on Estrada’s side, but five pitches later, Forsythe beat a chopper into the ground that Donaldson bare-handed and fired across the diamond but a half-step too late. The Blue Jays challenged the play but there was no dispute – he was safe.
“I was waiting for that big play, every no-hitter it seems like has that big play, and once (Donaldson) made it I kind of thought about it,” said Estrada. “I probably shouldn’t have, because I gave up the hit to the very next batter. Incredible play, it pumped me up and it’s unfortunate I couldn’t finish it, but we won.”
Said Forsythe: “It wasn’t a pretty hit, but it was a hit. Hats off to him. He pitched a great game.”
Reyes made another good play in the fourth, ranging to his right to collect Butler’s grounder before making a strong throw to first for the out. In the sixth, Jake Elmore fouled off six 3-2 pitches before sending a drive into right-centre field that Pillar had to chase down.
Then in the seventh, Evan Longoria hit a drive down the right field line that Jose Bautista made a long run for before making the grab while sliding into foul territory.
Estrada also took a no-hitter into the eighth in what finished as a 5-4 win last time out, when the Paredes single came on pitch No. 118. He had struggled with his command in the early innings, walking four over the first three frames.
Before the Rays missed all their opportunities, the Blue Jays squandered several chances to score.
Pillar picked up the game’s first hit with one out in the sixth, a single through the hole to left. After Ryan Goins went down looking, Pillar stole second and third, Reyes and Donaldson walked to load the bases for Bautista, who popped an 0-1 curve up to third to end the inning.
The Blue Jays were in even better position in the seventh when Edwin Encarnacion, a pitch after appearing to tweak his shoulder, blooped in a leadoff single and after he advanced on a wild pitch, moved to third on Dioner Navarro’s base hit.
That was it for Nate Karns, with Kevin Jepsen entering a tight spot and striking out both Russell Martin and Colabello before Pillar popped out to short to end the threat. Then in the ninth, they had men on the corners with one out but Colabello struck out and Pillar grounded out.
“To do that against that lineup, the kind of thump they have, is impressive,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I think that really makes a statement about how good our pitchers are.”
On this day, the Blue Jays’ pitchers were better, stymying the AL East leaders to cap a pair of wild series against two divisional rivals. This is the type of game they usually find a way to lose, and for them it’s a good sign that for a change they still managed to win.