Been there, won that: 0-2 doesn't faze Jays
Gibbons sticks with Price in 7th rather than turning to bullpen
KANSAS CITY -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is sure to replay the gut punch of an inning a hundred times in his mind.
Did he stay with David Price too long? Was there a better option in his bullpen?
These are the kinds of decisions that can follow a manager into a bitter offseason. Good thing the Blue Jays are accustomed to playing from behind.
Toronto fell into an 0-2 hole in the American League Championship Series by losing to the Royals, 6-3, on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. Defeats come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. This was the worst kind and not just because it backed the Blue Jays into another corner.
The Blue Jays can deal with corners. They lost two straight games at home before winning three straight elimination games in the AL Division Series against the Rangers. This challenge isn't as difficult as that one.
Toronto has lost two games on the road against Kansas City, but the Blue Jays return to Rogers Centre for at least two games and possibly three.
"There's no quit in this team," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "We wouldn't be here if we quit."
So the Blue Jays flew home Saturday night and were to work out briefly Sunday and clear their minds in preparation for Game 3 on Monday (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, with game time slated for 8 p.m.). Maybe that mind clearing will be the hardest part of all this.
This has the potential to be one of those defeats that linger awhile. Game 2 played out exactly as Toronto hoped it would. Price sailed into the seventh inning having allowed just one baserunner, a leadoff single in the first by Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Price retired 18 in a row after that, and after all the questions about his ability to win in the postseason, he was answering them in a huge way.
"You can't really pitch a better game," Gibbons said, adding, "to that point."
Oh, that. And then with the Blue Jays nine outs from evening the series, something weird happened. Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist opened the bottom of the seventh by lifting a pop fly into shallow right field.
Toronto second baseman Ryan Goins went back on the ball, tracked it, had it in his range. This is the kind of play he has made thousands of times.
At the last minute, Goins backed off, apparently thinking right fielder Jose Bautista was going to catch it. Bautista watched it drop, too, and Zobrist ended up on first base. And everything changed.
"I thought I heard an 'I got it,'" Goins said. "It was just a freak play."
Bautista said: "I think I had a chance [to catch it]. I was running to it. Someone called me off. So I peeled off."
Price, pitching from the stretch for the first time since the first inning, was different after that. The Royals scored five runs. Price faced six more hitters and got two of them out.
"It's just a man on first," Bautista said. "You don't think it's going to open up to be a five-run inning. But it did. That's the kind of team they are."
The Royals had a string of great at-bats. They fought off Price's offspeed stuff and focused on getting a bat on his fastball.
"They weren't really well-struck baseballs," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said. "They had real good at-bats and just kind of rallied. They got the momentum and kept going."
Now the money quote that may haunt Gibbons.
"Just like any pitcher, when you get your third, fourth at-bat against him, you kind of get a better feel for what his pitches are doing," Martin said. "They'd seen his changeups and cutters earlier and were able to kind of fight 'em off until they got a pitch they could do something with."
Price began this game with a history. He was winless in six postseason starts. On some level, this kind of thing makes no sense. In the past three seasons, Price's 3.01 ERA is sixth among AL starters during the regular season. He's first in innings and fourth in strikeouts. His record is 43-25.
But October hasn't been kind to Price. He said that he was "living in the moment" when the Zobrist ball fell in. In other words, Price wasn't thinking about his past playoff experiences. But maybe Gibbons should have.
Price had given the Blue Jays six solid innings against one of baseball's deepest lineups and could have left in a good frame of mind for a possible start in Game 6.
Why didn't Gibbons get Price out of there and trust his bullpen for the final nine outs?
There's your answer. Gibbons won't say it, but he trusted Price more than the reliever he would summon for the seventh. Gibbons has Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna for the final six outs. Given that they're 23 and 20, Gibbons may be reluctant to push them the way managers sometimes push relievers in the postseason.
Toronto's other option would have been left-hander Brett Cecil, who is not on the roster after suffering a calf injury in the ALDS.
So Gibbons stuck with Price.
"He's one pitch away of getting out of that," Gibbons said. "Sometimes there's that one little crack when you're on the road [that] can open up the floodgates."
The floodgates opened, and the Blue Jays have been pushed again, this time needing to rally from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
"We've been in the same situation before," Bautista said. "We have a little bit of experience being down 0-2. It's not the most comfortable place to be, but we're still confident. Today was just one of those days where a small mistake opened up [things] for the other team."