Blue Jays, Royals leaving bad blood in past
KANSAS CITY -- There will surely be a buzz throughout Kauffman Stadium when Josh Donaldson settles into his stance for the Blue Jays against the Royals on Friday night. Plenty of fans will have their cell phones out, hoping to capture a potential clash with Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez.
However, with Game 1 of the American League Championship Series set for tonight (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX/Sportsnet), the Royals and Blue Jays insist that the past is the past. While there is undoubtedly some bad blood remaining between the teams in light of their heated series in August, the players say that blood is no longer boiling.
There is simply too much at stake on this stage, where one wrong step could steal away a shot at World Series glory.
"It's the postseason. I don't think we're trying to give each other free baserunners," Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said on Thursday. "As I stand here, do I expect people to get hit? Yeah, probably, because they've got an aggressive pitching staff that likes to throw in and we've got guys that like to throw in as well.
"But, I can't imagine anyone trying to hurt anyone or give free baserunners. It's too important of a series. You hit a guy, that could be the run that determines the game."
An older generation will recall the last time these teams met with a trip to the Fall Classic on the line. That was in 1985, when Kansas City prevailed in seven games -- erasing Toronto's 3-1 series lead -- in the ALCS en route to the only World Series title in franchise history. A younger set of fans will draw from this season, when a series in early August made it clear that these were the teams to beat in the AL.
Each side viewed the series two months ago at Rogers Centre as a pivotal moment.
"That was the biggest series as far as intensity, as far as somebody challenging us," Royals reliever Ryan Madson said. "I love the way we reacted and the way we played."
"There was a lot riding on that series back at home," Toronto's Chris Colabello said. "I think it was really a time that we established that we wanted to be taken seriously. I don't think any of it will carry over into this series. I say that now, and I don't know what will happen, but you just go out and play the game."
The Blue Jays took three of four in that series, which culminated in a heated 5-2 win on Aug. 2. In that tilt, three players were hit by pitches, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and bench coach DeMarlo Hale were ejected and the benches cleared.
The sequence of events that afternoon was as follows:
• In the bottom of the first, an errant 94-mph sinker from Volquez struck Donaldson on the left shoulder. Donaldson walked slowly up the first-base line and exchanged words with Volquez before taking his base. Home-plate umpire Jim Wolf promptly issued a warning to both teams.
• In the home half of the third, Volquez's second pitch to Donaldson (an 85-mph changeup) sailed high and inside, forcing Toronto's third baseman to duck out of the way before the ball flew to the backstop. Donaldson walked in front of the plate and Gibbons jogged onto the field to argue that Volquez should be ejected in light of the prior warning. After order was restored, Donaldson drew a walk and emphatically flipped his bat away.
• In the bottom of the seventh, Madson's seventh pitch (a 96-mph heater) to Troy Tulowitzki hit the shortstop on the right forearm. Gibbons again argued with Wolf, who ejected the skipper. Madson then followed with a high and inside pitch to Donaldson, who barked at the home-plate umpire before striking out. Jose Bautista then delivered an RBI double and yelled at Madson after reaching base.
• In the top of the eighth, Toronto reliever Aaron Sanchez threw two inside pitches to Alcides Escobar, hitting him on the thigh with the second offering (a 97-mph fastball). Wolf ejected Sanchez and both benches and bullpens emptied onto the field. Hale was also ejected and Gibbons returned to the field during the scuffle. Both Volquez and Donaldson needed to be restrained by teammates.
Following the game, Royals manager Ned Yost said his pitchers were just trying to establish the inner half of the strike zone against a Blue Jays team known for its powerful and potent lineup. After hearing Yost's comments, Bautista tweeted that he "lost a lot of respect for that man."
Yost indicated on Thursday that pitching inside would continue to be a part of Kansas City's approach.
"We'll pitch inside aggressively," Yost said. "That's a power-laden club over there. We're going to formulate a really good game plan and try to go out and execute."
"I know they tried to do that that last game there in Toronto," Gibbons said. "And that kind of led to some of the [issues]. Some were inside and some were really inside."
During Thursday's workout in Kansas City, Volquez said he did not expect any carryover in Game 1 of the ALCS.
"No, it's over with," Volquez said matter-of-factly. "We've got to move forward."
Yost succinctly echoed that sentiment, answering only with, "No, I do not," when asked if he felt the confrontations in August would lead to more bad blood this week.
Gibbons offered a similar response.
"It happened so long ago," Gibbons said. "And right now, so much is at stake. You get careless out there and you do something stupid, it could cost your team a big game. You're trying to win this thing. I don't anticipate any of that."