TORONTO (Oct. 18) — A mistake by Ryan Goins and a bunch of people saying “… until the seventh inning.”
Each will dominate reaction to Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Neither will hold much water. A championship–caliber team playing behind a championship–caliber pitcher will rarely unravel like the Blue Jays did late Saturday afternoon. A 3–0 lead shouldn’t vanish so quickly on the heels of a bad break. And, a cagey, mentally–tough starter will often double down when misfortune occurs.
David Price was anything but mentally tough after the seventh inning began with a routine fly to shallow–right off the bat of Ben Zobrist. Goins, a gold–glove–caliber defender, ran out toward the ball as Jose Bautista ran in. It was undoubtedly Bautista’s catch… and an easy one under normal circumstances. Goins, however, made the situation abnormal by clearly waving his glove at Bautista to back off, which Joey Batts did. Inexplicably, Goins pulled up as well and the ball fell to the grass between them for a lead–off double.
But, you know what, folks? Sh– happens. In life and in baseball.
Undoubtedly, the Kansas City Royals saw a glimmer of light when the break occurred; Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez nailed it afterward when he told Hazel Mae of Sportsnet the Royals “got encouraged” by the play. Until that moment, Price had been in complete control of the ballgame, hurling a one–hitter through six. But, the truly great post–season pitchers of recent lore — John Smoltz, Andy Pettitte, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling, Dave Stewart — were able to stare down adversity. Rather than weakening them, it provided fuel. For Price, it was unnerving and back–breaking. As such, he remains winless as a starter in 12 playoff appearances; his earned–run–average this autumn: 7.02.
Obviously, it requires a very good team to rally for five runs late in a post–season game. The Royals have done it twice in the past week — once at Houston while facing near–certain elimination in the Division playoffs. It is no coincidence they stood atop the American League nearly wire–to–wire this season and are currently justifying their advancement to Game 7 of the World Series last year against San Francisco. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon, who went single–single–single–double off Price after the fluke double by Zobrist, are professional hitters and all were integral to the 2014 playoff run. Kansas City could easily win its first Major League championship since 1985 — and second overall.
Without the trade–deadline addition of Price from Detroit, the Blue Jays almost certainly wouldn’t have left New York in the dust to capture the American League East; the Yankees, in late–July, held a seven–game bulge over Toronto. Price has perpetually shown he’s an elite pitcher in the regular season. We are awaiting the same David Price in October. It could still happen — if not this year then somewhere down the road. Price is only 30 and very much in the prime of his career. But, right now, he’s the John Elway of star hurlers — the Hall–of–Fame quarterback who stumbled badly in three Super Bowls before going out in a blaze of glory with consecutive championships (1997 and 1998) on behalf of the Denver Broncos.
THE TURNING POINT: ON A ROUTINE POP TO RIGHT–FIELD LEADING OFF THE KANSAS CITY SEVENTH, RYAN GOINS WAVES HIS GLOVE TO CALL OFF JOSE BAUTISTA, WHO ACCEDES. WHEN GOINS PULLS UP, THE BALL DROPS IN FOR A DOUBLE THAT LED TO A FIVE–RUN ROYALS ERUPTION. FOX/SPORTSNET
Many will point out how spectacular Price was on Saturday… “until the seventh inning.” That doesn’t cut it. Baseball is a nine–inning game and the great pitchers become exponentially more difficult. For whatever reason, Price lost his concentration and mechanics after the Zobrist bloop dropped between Goins and Bautista. In that defining moment, he went from being virtually un–hittable to a blob of emotional jelly.
Let’s remember, though, that the Blue Jays aren’t in the ALCS by accident.
This is a remarkably potent ball club with above–average pitching and gobs of character that trickles downward from manager John Gibbons. But, the locals now need something of a miracle. You might think to yourself, “Wait a minute, Howard, the Jays were down 2–0 in the ALDS against Texas and came back to win a best–of–five. Why would it be a miracle to do the same in a best–of–seven?” The answer is simple and predictable: Comparing Texas to Kansas City isn’t merely apples to oranges; it’s grapes to watermelon.
Expecting the Blue Jays to win four of five from the Royals is foolhardy… if not impossible.
What the club could use, among other things, is an unconscious bat — the type that Hall–of–Famer George Brett provided Kansas City in the 1985 ALCS against the Blue Jays after it lost the first two games at old Exhibition Stadium. With Brett spraying the ball to all fields, K.C. took four of five — the final three matches consecutively to win the American League pennant and, ultimately, its first championship. A Toronto candidate, from this point forward, might be Josh Donaldson — the presumptive American League Most Valuable Player and a middling presence thus far in the 2015 playoffs.
Someone has to step forward, big–time, for the Blue Jays, beginning Monday night in Game 3 at Rogers Centre. If it happens, the ALCS will become interesting once again.