Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Marco Estrada loves Toronto, and Toronto should love him back

When Marco Estrada was traded in a one-for-one swap prior to the 2015 season in exchange for Adam Lind, I don’t think anybody had any expectations. In fact, I think most people were upset. The Blue Jays had just dealt a bonafide righty pitching masher for a bullpen arm.

But much like many we’ve seen before — like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — Estrada found his rhythm in Toronto. I wouldn’t say that Estrada is on the level of Bautista or Edwin, two certified franchise GOATs, but he did enough over two extremely good seasons in Toronto to greatly endear himself to the fanbase and earn himself the nickname ACEstrada.

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Estrada finally earned a shot in the rotation about a month-and-a-half into the 2015 season. To the surprise of pretty much everyone, Estrada became a pillar of that rotation, consistently churning out good starts while baffling opposing hitters with his changing speeds and pinpoint command. He out-duelled Max Scherzer in a season-changing doubleheader in June, he put up back-to-back quality starts in a week against the Yankees in August to help the Jays climb into the top spot in the American League East, and he completely suffocated Cleveland and Atlanta in games in September to help the Jays preserve their lead.

Marco truly earned the nickname ACEstrada for his showings in the post-season, though. It’s those starts that make him an under-the-radar Jays legend.

With the Jays down 2-0 to the Texas Rangers, Estrada took the hill in Arlington needing to come up with a good start to keep the team alive. He smothered the Rangers, holding them to one run on five hits over six-and-a-third scoreless frames, giving the lineup time to finally get around to hammering Martin Perez. The Jays would win Game 3 5-1 and that’s where everything turned around.

ACEstrada’s signature moment as a Blue Jay came in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Jays were down 3-1 in the series and, again, they needed a big start to keep the dream alive. Estrada, who had lost Game 1, responded with an absolute masterpiece against a Royals lineup nobody had been able to solve. Estrada was absolutely masterful, facing just one over the minimum through seven scoreless innings. He ended up going seven-and-two-thirds allowing just one earned run. He exited to one of the loudest ovations you’ll ever here.

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When you think of those 2015 and 2016 Blue Jays teams, the names and moments you really remember are Jose Bautista and The Bat Flip, Edwin Encarnacion and The Walk-off, and Josh Donaldson and The Dash. But right up there should be the image of Estrada walking off the field and pointing to the sky. If not for his pitching in Game 3 in Texas, there wouldn’t have been a bat flip. If not for how he pitched for the team in 2016, hell, there may not have been a Dash or a Walk-off. Though he doesn’t have the notoriety of the Big Three from this era, he was one of the most important parts of those playoff runs.

Estrada more than likely pitched his final game for the Blue Jays at home on Monday night. The end wasn’t ideal, as Estrada’s 2017 and 2018 seasons weren’t ones to remember, but there’s no forgetting the ACEstrada performances that played such a key role in 2015 and 2016.

After being pulled on Monday, Estrada walked off the field to a large ovation from the crowd. He responded with major praise, saying that the past four years had been the best of his career and that he wanted the fans in Toronto to know that he loves them.

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It’s been a hell of a ride. One that probably nobody expected, but also one that Blue Jays fans won’t forget.