Estrada’s excellent effort revives Blue Jays and ALCS

TORONTO — Here’s to Marco Estrada for saving David Price, the Blue Jays, the American League Championship Series and maybe even life itself.

Ah, it’s only baseball. But thanks to Estrada’s performance Wednesday, the Jays fought off elimination, preserved Price for Game 6 and brought drama to a series that appeared set for an untimely demise.

I’m not saying the Jays are going to rally from a three-games-to-two deficit — in fact, they now should regret going 1-4 after clinching the AL East and blowing home-field advantage to the Royals for this series.

But Price will start Game 6 against Yordano Ventura  — and if necessary, Marcus Stroman will pitch Game 7 against the international man of mystery, Johnny Cueto.

I would argue that both matchups favor the Jays, though Friday is a night game, preventing Price from taking advantage of the late-afternoon shadows the way he did for six innings at Kauffman Stadium in Game 2.

In any case, this discussion isn’t even taking place without Estrada’s 7 2/3 brilliant innings Wednesday in the Jays’ 7-1 victory. Manager John Gibbons uttered one word to the right-hander when he came to the mound to remove him:

“Wow.”

Before the game, Gibbons had said he would not hesitate to use Price in relief for the second time this postseason if necessary. Aaron Loup was still away from the team due to a family emergency, leaving the Jays without a lefty in their bullpen — and righties Liam Hendriks and Mark Lowe were unavailable after getting extended in the Jays’ 14-2 loss in Game 4.

In fact, Gibbons sounded as if Price would be a central part of his strategy, along with the Jays’ most trusted relievers, rookies Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna. If Price entered and the Jays won, the plan was for Stroman to start Game 6 on three days’ rest (gulp), with Price likely coming back in Game 7 (gasp).

Sure enough, Gibbons had Price warming in the sixth, even after the Jays took a 5-0 lead. The manager, remember, had inserted Price with a 7-1 lead in Game 4 of the Division Series, knowing that he had Stroman for Game 5, seemingly preferring Stroman for Game 5. The risk this time was greater: Using Price for 50 pitches in the DS only cost the Jays a chance to bring him out of the bullpen in the clincher. Using Price on Wednesday would have compromised Gibbons’ rotation for the rest of the series.

Estrada, though, had allowed two flyballs to the warning track in the top of the sixth, putting Gibbons on alert. “That’s what you look for out of Marco, because he’s a flyball guy,” Gibbons said. “When they get him, it’s usually home runs. That got my attention a little bit.”

HIGH FASHION WITH A PURPOSE

Gibbons said he would have summoned Price if the Jays had put two runners on instead of one for Eric Hosmer in the seventh. Hosmer went 0 for 3 against Estrada in Game 1, but is 4 for 5 against him lifetime in the regular season.

I know, I know — the Jays’ win probability at that point was high, and going to Price might have been overkill, especially considering the potential impact on Games 6 and 7.

But Gibbons, as in the DS, was taking no chances, not in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.

Estrada pitched so well that Gibbons feared that the veteran would take a 1-0 lead into the ninth, potentially leaving the Jays with an all-or-nothing decision that inning on Price.

“It was different than the time in Texas,” Gibbons said. “In Texas, he was up the night before a couple of times. I said the next day that we can’t do that again.

2015 POSTSEASON

“If things had gotten hairy in the ninth inning, he would have been the guy to come bail us out. He had sat down. But it would have been desperate times.”

The mere fact that Price got “hot” could be viewed as an unnecessary exertion, but the pitcher skipped his normal bullpen session on Monday and the teams will not resume play until Friday. Price, who has maintained all postseason that his arm bounces back quickly, predicted that he will be fine.

In the end, what exactly was Gibbons supposed to do? Imagine if the Jays had lost while saving Price for a Game 6 that never happened. The criticism of Gibbons would have resonated throughout Canada — and been entirely justified.

Estrada prevented such a conversation from taking place — Estrada, who allowed a major-league high 29 homers in 2014, arrived from the Brewers in a trade for first baseman Adam Lind and opened the season in the Jays’ bullpen.

He saved Price, saved the Jays, saved the ALCS.

To quote his manager, “Wow.”