Roy­als seize 2-0 lead

Mis­played bloop leads to five-run sev­enth as Price’s woes con­tinue

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY ADAM KIL­GORE

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.

MATT SLOCUM/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Toronto’s David Price cruised through six in­nings be­fore a popup fell in, spark­ing a rally.

PAUL SANCYA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Eric Hos­mer scores on Mike Mous­takas’s sin­gle dur­ing the Roy­als’ five-run sev­enth in­ning Satur­day.

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