TORONTO — Marco Estrada took the mound with one task: save the season for the Blue Jays.
He did it, pitching one-hit ball into the eighth inning to give Toronto's tattered bullpen a rest, and the Blue Jays beat the Royals 7-1 Wednesday to close to within 3-2 in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
"It's the start that we needed," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "They're a great team over there. We know that. But this guy kept them off balance and allowed the offense to settle in and get some runs."
Tulowitzki provided three of those runs. He broke the game open with a bases-clearing double off Kelvin Herrera in the sixth, giving him seven RBIs in the series. Edwin Encarnacion had walked with the bases loaded against Edinson Volquez, who seemed flustered by a couple of close calls against him.
Kansas City totaled 22 runs and 30 hits in the first two games in Toronto, but Estrada faced the minimum 20 batters before Lorenzo Cain walked with two outs in the seventh.
Estrada, a 32-year-old free agent-to-be, kept the bullpen door closed for most of the afternoon, a day after Kansas City romped 14-2 in a game that saw infielder Cliff Pennington pitch in the ninth.
"This time around I had better fastball command," said Estrada, who gave up three runs in the opener. "That was the key to this game."
Toronto is trying to become the 13th team to rally and win among 80 who trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven postseason series.
Before 49,325 roaring fans, Chris Colabello's solo homer into the leftfield seats in the second gave Estrada a lead.
Estrada didn't make a miscue until Salvador Perez homered with two outs in the eighth. He retired his first nine batters, ending at four Alcides Escobar's record streak of leading off playoff games with hits.
Escobar got Kansas City's first hit when he opened the fourth with a ground single past a diving Tulowitzki. Former Ray Ben Zobrist promptly grounded into a double play.
"He was really good," Escobar said. "He threw the ball down, down and away, down and in. He didn't miss many pitches."
Kansas City had no other runners until Cain walked with two outs in the seventh. Ace David Price warmed up, but Estrada got Eric Hosmer to fly out.
Volquez allowed two singles after Colabello connected but lost the strike zone in the sixth.
Ben Revere led off with a walk and Volquez hit Josh Donaldson with the next pitch. He then walked Jose Bautista in a 10-pitch at-bat on a borderline knuckle curve.
"I thought the pitch to Bautista was definitely a strike," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Yost shouted from the dugout for Perez to appeal to first, thinking Bautista may have swung. But it was too loud in the closed-roof stadium for Perez to hear.
Encarnacion walked on another pitch that upset Volquez and Yost, and Revere jogged home. It was his last batter.
"When you lose your fastball command, it's hard for the umpire to give you the close pitches," Volquez said.