MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Marco Estrada is getting hot just as his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays is nearing an end.
Not that he’s talking free agency just yet. Saturday night was all about playing spoiler to the contending Minnesota Twins.
Estrada worked eight efficient innings, Josh Donaldson homered twice among his four hits and the Blue Jays beat the Twins 7-2.
Minnesota’s loss clinched the AL Central for the Cleveland Indians and gave teams a chance to gain on the Twins for the final AL wild card. Minnesota entered the day two games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels.
“We can still stop other teams from going, I guess,” Estrada said.
A free agent at the end of this season, Estrada (9-8) continues to rebound from a tough nine-game stretch earlier this year where he went 0-5 with a 9.52 ERA. Since then, he’s 5-1 and extended his string of allowing three earned runs or fewer to nine of his last 11 outings.
“I’d like to finish strong, open up some eyes maybe and hopefully get the chance to come back here,” Estrada said. “You want to keep winning. It’s a little late now, but we’re still out there busting our butts.”
He sure looked like a playoff pitcher Saturday, allowing two homers but not much else. Aside from solo shots by Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar, the Twins didn’t get a runner in scoring position until Joe Mauer’s leadoff double in the ninth, when the game was already well out of reach.
“He kept us off balance pretty much all night and it’s tough when a guy’s on like that,” said Byron Buxton, who ended his six-game hitting streak.
Donaldson gave the Blue Jays a lead in the first by sending a first-pitch shot off Adalberto Mejia (4-6) into the second deck in left-center. He also led off the fourth with a single and came around to score on Jose Bautista’s single. A batter later, Kendrys Morales drove in Justin Smoak with a single.
Estrada took care of the rest, retiring 12 of his final 15 batters after he allowed three hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
“After the trade deadline, I think he just kind of kicked it back in gear,” manager John Gibbons said. “We knew it was just a little blip that he’d pull through.”
Matt Dermody pitched a scoreless ninth for Toronto.
BAUTISTA BUSTS HIS SKID
Nothing like a trip to Minnesota for Bautista to cure his 0-for-17 skid. Bautista, whose 14 homers at Target Field are the most of any non-Twins player at the ballpark, had three hits and an RBI. “I expect to see him hit a home run before he leaves here,” Gibbons said. “He normally does.”
Donaldson now leads the AL with 19 homers since the All-Star break. “I’ve been seeing a lot of fastballs up in the zone pretty much all season long,” he said. “There’s times when I’m swinging and missing at it, and there’s times when I’m connecting with it. The times that I connect with it, good things normally happen for me.”
Making his first start since a biceps injury last month sidelined him for 35 games, Mejia seemed to recover after Donaldson’s homer and retired eight straight batters before getting chased in the fourth. Still, the rookie said he felt good afterward. “Some of the selection and location might have been off a little bit and he had to pay the price for that,” Molitor said.
Twins: Molitor said the plan is keep Miguel Sano (shin) in Minnesota when the team starts a 10-game trip in New York next week. Molitor added it’s possible the first baseman may need to go to New York for a personal reason. “It just hasn’t been a great week,” the manager said of Sano’s slow recovery.
Blue Jays: RHP Joe Biagini (3-10) returns to the mound after throwing a career-high eight innings on Tuesday in a 3-2 win against Baltimore.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (10-10) tries to even the four-game series. He last pitched against Toronto on Aug. 27, when he threw 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on seven hits in Minnesota’s 7-2 victory.
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