Royals seize 2-0 lead
Misplayed bloop leads to five-run seventh as Price’s woes continue
kansas city, mo. — David Price watched the ball float through the soft-blue sky, harmless and pearl white, another demon slayed. Price had been magnificent, damn near perfect, all afternoon. Two Toronto Blue Jays fielders converged in shallow right field of Kauffman Stadium. Either could have gloved the ball — it was an out 999 times out of 1,000 on a big league diamond.
Price will live with the moment for years, the split second between redemption and calamity. The ball dropped to the grass. The vicious efficiency he displayed, the 18 consecutive batters he retired and the reputation he momentarily revived crashed down with it.
Saturday afternoon, Price escaped his past before it dragged him down deeper than ever before. The Kansas City Royals, October zombies that they are, turned a botched popup in the seventh inning into a five-run rally off Price and a 6-3 victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. When the
series restarts Monday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, the Royals will hold a 2-0 lead the Blue Jays may still wonder what the heck just happened.
What happened is this: Placed in familiar situations, the Royals and Price played to perception. The Royals have won five games this postseason, and in four of them they trailed by at least two runs after the fifth inning. Price’s team remains winless in his seven postseason starts. Presented a glimmer, the Royals pounced. Faced with a postseason trial, Price crumbled.
In Toronto’s clubhouse, second baseman Ryan Goins declared, “It’s on me,” because he had called off right fielder Jose Bautista and then bailed out. Bautista said he could have caught it but peeled off after Goins waved his glove, the signal for calling him off. Price grabbed a Sierra Mist from the cooler and ambled to his locker.
Surrounded by three straggling reporters, Price brought up a moment that outlined the improbability of the game and the frustration coursing through him. During the Royals’ rally, with runners on the corners, Eric Hosmer bolted to second on a hit and run, a surprise given Price had not yielded a steal all season. Price thought he had induced a double-play ball. Instead, a run scored and the inning further spiraled.
“I didn’t know he was running,” Price said. “I hadn’t given up a stolen base all year. Not one. But nobody talks about that. No one. They don’t know that stat.”
Here, then, are the stats people know: Price, a Cy Young winner and one of the best lefties of his era, has started seven playoff games in his career. His team has lost all seven. Despite helping the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 World Series as a rookie reliever, his postseason ERA sits at 5.24.
“I don’t think I struggled,” Price said. “It’s frustrating. But I didn’t struggle. That’s baseball. It’s part of it. Good things are going to happen. I know they are.”
Price incinerated his old reputation for the majority of Saturday afternoon. After Alcides Escobar slapped his very first pitch for a single, Price retired 18 consecutive Royals using only 65 pitches. He made hitters lunge at change-ups and deadened bats with his knuckle-curve. He struck out the side in the sixth inning and took the mound in the seventh with a 3-0 lead and only 66 pitches deep. “Dominant,” Toronto catcher Russell Martin said.
“He was cruising,” right fielder Alex Gordon said. “I felt like we needed to catch a break.”
Ben Zobrist popped a firstpitch fastball into shallow right field. Zobrist, certain someone would catch the bloop, slammed his bat as he ran to first. Goins out from second base, and Bautista trotted in, sure he could make the catch.
“I saw him call me off,” Bautista said, “so I peeled off.”
The Kauffman Stadium crowd roared. Goins shook his glove twice at Bautista, and Bautista stopped his pursuit. As the ball neared the end of its descent, Goins also backed away, tumbling to his backside. The ball plopped to the turf.
“I just thought I heard, ‘I got it,’ but it was nothing,” Goins said. “I should have gone in more aggressively. I put my glove up, like I always do. That means I got it. I just didn’t make the play.”
Playoff baseball punishes such errors, especially when they occur against these Royals. After an afternoon of futility, Kansas City sensed opportunity.
“Those little things, an error, a play like that that should be made, takes a little bit of confidence away from the pitcher,” Zobrist said. “Maybe they leave a few more balls over the plate that they wouldn’t have previously. There’s just a shift in mentality from the moment.”
In reality, the Blue Jays led by three with nine outs left. Price has modified his windup so it closely mimics his stretch, because he believes the biggest pitches hap-drifted pen with runners on base and he wants to be prepared. He had a chance to make the gaffe trivial.
“It’s only a man on first,” Bautista said. “You don’t think it’s going to open up a five-run inning, but it did. That’s the kind of team they are. You give them a little chance, and they string a few hits together and they score a few runs.”
The crowd frenzied. Lorenzo Cain lined a 95-mph fastball into right field for a single. Hosmer laced an RBI single to center field. Pitching coach Pete Walker hustled to the mound.
Kendrys Morales rolled a groundout up the middle, but with Hosmer running, the Blue Jays had no shot to turn a double play. “The key to that whole innings,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said, “believe it or not.” Cain scampered across and sliced Toronto’s lead to 3-2. Despite the disintegration on the mound, Gibbons made no effort to remove Price.
“He pitched great, and the seventh inning just got away from him,” said Zobrist, a teammate with Price in Tampa who considers him the best pitcher he’s ever played behind. “I thought personally they should have taken him out and not let him get to that point in the game.”
Mike Moustakas hooked a 2-2 change-up into right field. Bautista, owner of a military-grade throwing arm, charged the ball. Bautista’s throw sailed up the line. Hosmer slid across with the tying run.
Still, Gibbons did not budge. Price struck out Salvador Perez. One more, and he would escape winless, but at least not cursed. Gordon delivered the dagger. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Price threw Gordon a 96-mph fastball, one of the hardest pitches Price had thrown all afternoon. It tailed over the plate, and Gordon hammered it into the rightcenter field gap.
The Blue Jays will kick themselves for reasons beyond the mangled popup. They had two runners in scoring position with one out in the sixth and couldn’t add to a two-run inning. Toronto relievers allowed five of the eight batters they faced to reach base. In the ninth, a rally fizzled after two hitters reached against closer Wade Davis. Mostly, they will remember the play that, for Price, must feel like a cruel joke.
After his final pitch, Price backed away from the mound in slow, forlorn strides. He stared into the outfield, dazed. What must Price have been thinking, as the crowd frothed and the scoreboard flipped to the Royals? Who would want to know? A day earlier, he had said, “I know good things are coming.” Minutes earlier, Price had salvaged his biggame reputation. Now, he skulked off the field, clambered down the dugout steps and disappeared.
Toronto’s David Price cruised through six innings before a popup fell in, sparking a rally.
Eric Hosmer scores on Mike Moustakas’s single during the Royals’ five-run seventh inning Saturday.