Facing possible American League Cy Young Award winner, the Kansas City Royals struggled mightily as the Jays' built an early three-run lead to prop up southpaw David Price. Price rolled through the Royals' aggressive lineup early, at one point retiring 18 straight batters, making it look as though needing less than a dozen pitches to finish an inning was so easy that he might have fallen through a wrinkle in time and found himself facing a Royals' squad from the darkest days of the Aughts.
For his part, Yordano Ventura limited the damage done by the highest-scoring lineup that baseball has seen in six years to a mere three runs, though a large chunk of that success owed to an unlikely savior, Luke Hochevar in the role as 'Fireman.' While Ventura left the game trailing, he would not factor in the decision, as the Royals conjured their devil magic against the Blue Jays' ace in a signature seventh inning that would lead even the staunchest of detractors to admit that perhaps this is some indefinable skill, forged from a surely unholy fire, that only this team possesses.
With both starters enjoying the early luxury of pitching from beyond the upper deck's cast shadow bisecting the infield between the mound and the plate, offense was not abundant in the first few innings.
Yordano Ventura sent down Ben Revere, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista in order in the first, striking out Donaldson. David Price worked around a first-pitch-swinging single from Alcides Escobar and a fielder's choice from Ben Zobrist that was initially ruled a double play but overturned upon another successful challenge from Ned Yost and the Royals' incomparable replay team.
Hours removed from a cortisone shot in his left hand, Edwin Encarnacion singled in his first plate appearance, and Chris Colabello followed with a single of his own to put runners at first and second with no outs in the second. Ventura baffled Troy Tulowitzki with his curveball on consecutive pitches, unable to check his swing both times, striking the struggling shortstop out for the first out of the inning. After Russell Martin worked the count full, Ventura lucked out with an induced screaming liner ripped to a diving Escobar, who tossed the ball from the dirt on his chest to Zobrist at second for the double play, allowing the Kansas City to escape the inning unscathed.
Price sent down the Royals in order with 12 pitches in the bottom of the second, an inning so effortless as to open the door for legitimate concern that runs may not come at all for the Royals on this sunny afternoon.
Facing the eighth and ninth hitters in the lineup, Ventura ceded back-to-back doubles to Kevin Pillar and Ryan "Not Coming, Definitely" Goins, the latter plating the former, for the first run of the game.
Returning to the top of the order with a runner in scoring position and no outs, Ventura retired Ben Revere, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista consecutively without allowing Goins to score, thanks in large part to a crucial backwards K of Revere for the first out of the inning.
With that out, Donaldson moved Goins to third with a groundout to Escobar. Thankfully for Ventura and the Royals, Bautista flied out harmlessly to Lorenzo Cain to keep the score 1 - 0, Toronto.
The ease with which Price cut through the lineup in the second was repeated in the third--and then some--needing a scant seven pitches to get through the trio of Alex Gordon, Alex Rios, and Escobar.
Ventura cruised through two quick outs in the fourth, but Tulowitzki sent a pitch four inches inside off the plate to shallow left on a bloop single. Unfazed, Ventura coaxed a routine groundout to third with a two-seamer on the inside edge of the strike zone from Toronto's Canadian backstop, Coltrane Martin.
Price needed ten pitches to get through the top of the fourth, striking out both Zobrist (looking) and Hosmer in the process. This meant Price finished the fourth inning with just his 39th pitch of the afternoon, keeping him on pace for well under 100 pitches projected out over nine frames.
In the fifth, Ventura went through the 8-9-1 spots in the Jays' lineup with ease, spending just a dozen pitches, the last his 66th pitch of the night.
Intent upon working a count--something that the Royals seemed previously unaware was an option--Kendrys Morales worked a seven-pitch at-bat (the same total a troika of Royals amassed in the second) before hitting a screaming liner directly to Josh Donaldson, coming off the bat at a scorching 110-MPH. Moustakas sent a fly to deep left-center on the fifth pitch of his plate appearance, but Salvador Perez felt no need to add to Price's pitch count, putting the first pitch he saw on the ground to short.
Donaldson led off the sixth by clipping the cable holding up the foul screen behind home plate with a foul ball that would have been the first out of the inning but for ground rules dictating that contact with the cable made it a dead ball. Granted a second life, Donaldson reincarnate legged out an infield single. Bautista followed with a five-pitch walk.
The unraveling was palpable.
Already trailing with Price looking like the second coming of Bob Gibson, this felt like the end.
Encarnacion grounded a cutter that found the heart of the strike zone to the left side of the infield. The grounder skittered under the diving glove of Escobar, plating Donaldson for the second Jays' run of the afternoon. Given the less than ideal placement of this pitch, the damage could have been a lot worse.
After striking out Chris Colabello for the first out of the inning, Alex Rios fully extended on a dive but just missed catching a Tulowitzki fly ball that sliced away from him into the corner in right. Tulo's double only plated Bautista, as Encarnacion held up to see if Rios was going to pull in the catch.
In an inning that seemed unlikely to end, Ventura got up 0-2 on Russell Martin before losing him on the seventh pitch of the plate appearance, walking the Toronto catcher.
Ventura gave way to Luke Hochevar, leaving the bases loaded with just the Colabello K under his belt in the frame.
Channeling the spirit of Anne Sullivan, Hochevar induced an infield fly from Kevin Pillar for the second out of the inning and extricated the Royals from the near-disaster with a groundout to Hosmer from Goins.
Price struck out the side with 14 pitches, getting Gordon and Rios looking with two pitches maybe a hair outside but close enough for a pitcher cruising like Price to get the benefit of the doubt.
This didn't stop Rios from complaining about the called third strike, doubt being something Rios generally shouldn't benefit from in this scenario. It should be noted here that Rios's complaints to home plate umpire Laz Diaz seemed as futile and pointless as the Royals coming back up to the plate in any of the next three innings with the herculean effort put forth by David Price to this point in time.
Perhaps it was the cyborg in the pen. Perhaps it was cast in stone several millennia ago. Somehow, resistance was not futile, at least not for the Royals.
Danny Duffy made his first appearance of the ALCS in the top of seventh. Facing the top of the order, he got the speedy Ben Revere to ground to short for the first out of the inning. Donaldson flew out routinely to Cain in center for the second out. Facing the powerful Bautista, Duffy eventually got the slugger looking after dancing around the outside of the strike zone intent upon painting the corners, realizing that intention with breathtaking brushstrokes evoking the greatest artists of yore--but not Rembrandt, because that's not a saying, GMC.
Emboldened by the spirit Duffy's bear suit--furrr sure--or Anne Sullivan or Gandalf or whatever supernatural force fuels the Royals' engine, the yowling denizens of Kauffman willed a Ben Zobrist pop up to fall for a single between an incommunicative Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista, who couldn't have communicated to call one another off if they were telepaths.
Goins would later say that he thought he heard something that led him to pull out at the last minute. At this point would some supernatural force exerting its will upon the outcome of a Royals' game be that unbelievable?
The Singles Train loaded up at the station. Lorenzo Cain lined to right. Hosmer followed with a liner of his own to center, plating Zobrist and moving Cain to third without an out in the books.
The inevitability of a rally felt preordained.
Kendrys Morales, who in their previous meeting nearly opened a rift in the space-time continuum with his screaming liner that met the mitt of Donaldson at third, stepped to the plate. Rather than give astrophysicists an event to study with his next hit, he grounded to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Surprisingly, Hosmer was off with the release of the pitch, and Hosmer coasted into second standing up, leaving just the out at first at the Jays' avail. Lorenzo Cain crossed the plate to cut the Jays' lead to 3 - 2 with just a solitary out recorded.
Mike Moustakas lined a single over the leaping Ryan Goins on a 2-2 change to shallow right. Eric Hosmer read the hit perfectly and motored around third to beat the throw home from the strong-armed Bautista in right. Bautista's throw home was a bit off line and reached David Price backing up the play, allowing Moustakas to advance to second safely on the throw home.
Salvador Perez got up 2-1 and took a mighty swing a 89-MPH cutter but fouled it off. He fouled a second cutter off of Martin's mask to stay alive 2-2 before watching a change dive well low to run the count full. With the go-ahead run standing at second in the form of a Greek bull moose, David Price got a cutter a couple inches outside called for a third strike, getting Perez looking with a pitch that was intermittently a strike throughout the afternoon but wasn't as recently as two separate pitches in the Duffy/Bautista at-bat half an inning earlier.
Alex Gordon stepped to the plate and became the second straight Royals' hitter to work the count full (this, in and of itself, felt impossible in the early goings of this game) with the go-ahead run still a mere single away.
Fouling off the first 3-2 offering he saw, Gordon dug in and watched as a 96-MPH fastball careened toward the plate. In the heart of the zone, Gordon capitalized upon the mistake, pulling a liner to the gap in right-center. Gordon trotted into second with ease as Moustakas crossed the plate for the fourth Kansas City run of the inning.
Despite its complete improbability following 18 straight Royals being retired by the previously dominant Price, the Royals had wrested the lead from the Jays.
Alex Rios followed Gordon's double with a single of his own.
The Royals led 5 -3.
After Escobar finally let the Jays off the hook with a routine groundout to his Toronto counterpart, Ned Yost turned to Kelvin Herrera to work the eighth less than a day removed from a completely overwhelming nine-pitch inning in Game One in which he needed only his fastball.
Herrera went fastball, changeup, curveball to Encarnacion, getting the Jays' designated hitter swinging on the rarely proffered breaking ball.
Colabello took a 1-0 96-MPH fastball down the pipe to left for a one-out double over Gordon's head. Paulo Orlando--who pinch-ran for Rios in the bottom of the seventh and might have converted two earlier plays to right into outs were it he, not Rios, in right--watched the second out of the inning pop into his glove, barely needing to move to make the play.
Not risking the out, Colabello held at second, and Russell Martin stepped to the plate with the part of 'Hero' open for casting.
Martin watched an 0-2 change go by for a pitch that Herrera, Perez, and Gameday concurred was a strike, but Laz Diaz did not see things that way. Baseball being the sport it is, Diaz's opinion was the only one that mattered here.
Herrera pumped a third straight cambio into the zone.
Martin couldn't make contact.
The 5 - 3 lead was preserved with a strikeout that sent Kauffman into expectant ecstasy.
After a Ben Zobrist flyout to center, Lorenzo Cain earned a walk against reliever Aaron Sanchez. The walk meant that Sanchez had to give way to another Aaron, this one with the surname Loup scrawled across his shoulders. With Hosmer at the dish, Cain took off on what looked to be a possible busted hit-and-run--either that, or it was the seventh-dumbest delayed steal employed by the Royals this season--and got picked off on his return to first after the throw down to second.
Fortunately, Hosmer worked a walk, and Morales followed with one of his own. Moustakas ripped a liner to right, pushing the sixth Kansas City run across the plate, a statement that felt impossible less than two innings earlier but for the Royals' preternatural ability to will themselves from the dead--the contemporary nine-headed version of Lazarus, an bedeviling incarnation relying upon the vagaries of sequencing and lacking in modern baseball's desired quality, power.
Salvador Perez stranded Morales and Moustakas at the corners, flying out to right, and the Royals turned to cyborg Wade Davis to handle the ninth.
Kevin Pillar--no relation to Kevin Millar--sent an 0-1 fastball from Davis the other way on the ground through the infield to right. Facing pinch-hitter Cliff Pennington, Davis got screwed completely (and upon reflection, perhaps literally) on a full-count fastball that missed its mark but was firmly a strike on the Gameday grid, for a called fourth ball to put a second baserunner aboard.
Cyborgs are not programmed for worry, nor do they get angry when done an injustice.
Getting back to the top of the order with the batter representing the game-tying run, Davis struck out Ben Revere for the first out of the inning.
Possible AL MVP Josh Donaldson stepped into the box.
The best reliever in the game dug in and jumped ahead 0-2 before eventually striking him out on a 1-2 fastball that Donaldson swung through for the second out of the inning. It might have disappeared from this temporal plane for a second. Generations will debate this question.
Jose Bautista stepped to the plate mere days from his emphatic home run to cinch things up for the Jays in the ALDS. He offered at the first pitch, a strike near the heart of the zone, and sent it harmlessly to right for the final out of the afternoon.
The 6 - 3 win gives the Royals a two-game advantage in the best-of-seven series against the high-powered Blue Jays.
In addition to the Royals' lineup finally getting to David Price in their third time facing him--it's almost like getting to see more and more of a pitcher gives way to an advantage for the offense--the Royals' bullpen was fantastic. Luke Hochevar came in with a razor-thin margin of error and got two quick, harmless outs. Duffy and Herrera held course, and Davis worked around two runners sending down the two-headed monster at the second and third spots, as has become commonplace for the filthy Royals' righty.
The Royals are two wins away from a second-straight trip to the World Series.
Can you dig it?