For the second game in a row, the Royals took the lead before the Blue Jays' starting pitcher could work up a sweat. This time, Kansas City poured on four runs, the most of any team in the first inning of a 2015 postseason game, a disastrous result for R.A Dickey, particularly because the Blue Jays didn't come back. With a resounding 14-2 victory, Kansas City is now now one win away from its second straight trip to the World Series, while Toronto has to summon some of the rare magic to be come the 13th team to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series, a count that includes the 1985 Royals’ comeback against the Blue Jays.
three four quick thoughts on the game:
Rotation woes starting to catch up to Toronto
Pulled in controversial fashion 4 2/3 innings into his Division Series Game 3 start, Dickey didn't even last that long this time around. Just four pitches into Tuesday's game, he had already allowed more runs than in that outing. After Alcides Escobar led off with a single, Ben Zobrist smoked a high knuckleball for a two-run homer to right-centerfield, but the 40-year-old flutterballer's woes were only beginning.
Lorenzo Cain worked a six-pitch walk and then quickly swiped second base, the first steal against Dickey since July 4. Cain advanced to third on an Eric Hosmer single up the middle, and scored on a passed ball when the pitcher himself couldn't get the tag down fast enough. A Kendrys Morales groundout advanced Hosmer to third, and he trotted home on Mike Moustakas' sacrifice fly. Including Alex Rios' second-inning solo homer, the Royals scored five runs against Dickey before he could even turn the lineup over. His afternoon ended after just 48 pitches, and it took a pickoff of Cain by reliever Liam Hendriks — who wound up retiring all 12 batters he faced as well — before he could even throw his first pitch to avoid further damage before the Blue Jays could bat again. A quick highlight reel:
How badly did Dickey's start hurt? In the Division play era (1969 onward) just two out of 25 teams have come back to win a postseason game where their starter yielded at least five runs while exiting before completing a second inning. The 1988 A's rallied to win ALCS Game 3 against the Red Sox after a Bob Welch dud, as they tagged Boston starter Mike Boddicker for three home runs. The 1999 Red Sox came back to win the rubber game of the Division Series against the Indians 12-8 thanks in part to Pedro Martinez's six perfect innings out of the bullpen.
Including Marcus Stroman's 6 1/3 inning, 11-hit, four-run Game 3 start—which tied for the third-lowest game score (35) for a winning pitcher in a wild card-era postseason game—Dickey’s performance highlighted an ongoing problem for the Jays thus far. Their starters have been roughed up for a 5.12 ERA with just three quality starts out of nine. Mind you, the Royals starters have actually been worse via a 5.64 ERA and just two quality starts out of nine, but their bullpen has been far better than Toronto’s, producing a 2.36 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings, compared to Toronto’s 5.72 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 33 innings. What’s more, the Royals have scored five runs or more in seven straight games (a streak unmatched in the regular season, h/t Rany Jazayerli) and have averaged an MLB-high 6.44 runs per game this postseason. While the Blue Jays are second at 4.67 per game, they have scored at least five runs in just one of four games this series.
Quick hook pays off for Royals
Dickey's opposite number, Chris Young, fared better than his former Mets teammate, even if he didn't get the win. The 36-year-old righty retired the first eight Blue Jays he faced, then worked into and out of trouble in the third inning as the Rogers Centre crowd came to life. With one out, Ryan Goins and Ben Revere walked, and Josh Donaldson smoked a ground-rule double. That scored Goins, and then Revere scored on Jose Bautista's groundout, cutting the lead to 5-2, but Young rebounded to retire the next six batters he faced.
That carried him until there were two outs in the fifth, when Revere reached via a single. Though Young had thrown just 78 pitches, manager Ned Yost gave him the hook, but it was clearly the right call. The Jays’ big bats, Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion, loomed for the third time and the Royals’ A-list relievers were well-rested thanks to Kris Medlen's five-inning relief stint in Game 2 following Johnny Cueto’s dud of a start. Luke Hochevar came on, retired Donaldson on a pop foul and worked a scoreless sixth inning as well, throwing just 12 pitches. Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera and Franklin Morales each added scoreless innings using 15 pitches or fewer, likely keeping them available for Game 5.
For at least the third time this postseason, a particular weakness of the current instant replay system was exposed — namely, that of a baserunner being called out after safely reaching the next base but coming off the bag for a split second. In the top of the fourth inning, Rios singled and stole second base successfully — only to be called out because second baseman Ryan Goins caught him as he popped up from his slide and briefly took both feet off the bag.
Both of these teams have seen this before. In the 14th inning of Game 2 of the Division Series, the Rangers’ Rougned Odor took second on a single, rounded the bag before retreating, and was nearly picked off by Bautista and Troy Tulowizki, who tagged the runner’s right shin. Odor was called safe, but replay left the correctness of that call in doubt, albeit not enough to overturn the call on the field. Odor came around to score the go-ahead run and the Rangers won the game, much to the distress of the Blue Jays and their fans.
In Game 4 of the other Division Series, Royals pinch-runner Terrance Gore entered the game in place of Sal Perez in the seventh inning, representing the potential tying run. He stole second base successfully, and he appeared to swipe third as well, but after beating the throw and the tag, his left foot briefly popped off the base. He was called out, squelching the rally, and while the Royals soon fell from behind 3-2 to behind 6-2, they rallied for seven runs over the final two innings to win 9-6.
All of these plays are of a piece, both in that they're caused by the momentum of baserunners upon reaching apparent safety (plus a little force from the tagging defender, ahem) and that they’re attempts not to remedy an obvious blown call on the field but to find out whether somehow a call was missed. If they have a challenge to burn, it's certainly within teams’ rights to take a shot at erasing a baserunner, and if the video shows that without question a runner lost contact with the base while the tag was applied, the review crew has to instruct the umpires accordingly. Still, but there does seem to be enough grumbling about such calls violating the spirit of replay that the league may have to address the situation this winter, just as they’ll have to address takeout slides in the wake of Chase Utley's steamrolling of Ruben Tejada. As with the wording of the so-called Buster Posey rule, such a change — if there is indeed one made — won't be an easy one to implement with regards to the rule book wording and the implementation, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the league takes a swing at this.
With the Royals threatening to add to their 12-2 lead by putting two men on base in the ninth inning against Mark Lowe, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons made history by calling upon infielder Cliff Pennington to pitch, not only something he’d never done in a regular season game, but something no position player had ever done in a postseason game. Perhaps it was an inevitability given that a record 27 appearances were made by non-pitchers this year, though none of those was by Toronto. The last Toronto position player to take the mound was Steve Tolleson, who did so twice last year.
Alas, it didn’t go particularly well for Pennington, who yielded two runs via singles by Paulo Orlando and Alcides Escobar before retiring Ben Zobrist on a pop foul, but that was at least more helpful than the afternoon’s work of Latroy Hawkins, who served up two hits and a walk without retiring a batter during the seventh inning, when the score was still 5-2, and saw all of his bequeathed baserunners come around to score.