But right-hander Aaron Crow issued back-to-back bases-loaded walks in a tie game and the Royals came up short in a ninth-inning rally as they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Blue Jays on Saturday in front of 34,315 at Rogers Centre.
"It's a terrible way to lose a game," said Crow, who threw eight straight balls to bring in the two runs. "The bullpen came in in the eighth and really didn't do our job today. That's on us."
The game began slipping away before Crow lost the strike zone. Right-hander Kelvin Herrera replaced starter Jeremy Guthrie, who logged seven strong innings, to start the eighth and surrendered a pair of hits around a popout. Manager Ned Yost had seen enough and turned to lefty Will Smith with one out to face Toronto's Ryan Goins.
Smith induced a desired grounder, but shortstop Alcides Escobar booted the play, allowing the Blue Jays to tie the game at 2. Escobar, who felt he should have come up with the ball, said he was screened on the play by runner Munenori Kawasaki, but Yost was quick to defend the usually smooth-fielding shortstop.
"The runner totally blocked him," Yost said. "Will Smith did a perfect job to get the perfect double-play ball. [Escobar] didn't see the ball until the last second. He makes that play with a clear line of sight."
Smith then walked Edwin Encarnacion and was removed in favor of Crow, who started off his appearance well by striking out pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa with the bases loaded. But Crow soon stumbled with free passes to Brett Lawrie -- which gave Toronto its first lead of the game -- and Rajai Davis as Toronto took a 4-2 advantage.
"We can't be coming in and doing that this time of the year," said Yost, who was ejected by home-plate umpire Will Little while disputing his strike zone during a pitching change to remove Crow. "We have to command the ball a little better in these crucial situations, Aaron does, anyway."
Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey said although Crow's lack of command allowed his team to come away with a victory, he couldn't help but feel for the Royals reliever.
"I was telling someone in the dugout [that] it's such a helpless feeling," Dickey said. "You have a moment of empathy."
Despite the demoralizing turn of events, the Royals didn't quit and made things interesting in the ninth -- putting two on with one out against Casey Janssen. But the closer struck out Alex Gordon before the Royals were eliminated on the bases.
With Emilio Bonifacio -- the potential go-ahead run -- at the dish, pinch-runner Chris Getz was thrown out trying to steal second with a bullet throw by catcher J.P. Arencibia.
"J.P. came in and did a great job," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Casey is quick enough the plate where he can equalize that somewhat, but the catcher's got to make a play. That was huge."
The meltdown by the bullpen spoiled a strong start from Guthrie, who allowed one run and struck out four in a no-decision. It was the third time in his last four starts that he didn't issue a walk.
Guthrie, who was removed after throwing just 92 pitches, felt he had enough left in the tank to come back out after the seventh but understood his manager's decision to turn the ball over to the bullpen.
"I would have liked to have lost that game on my own," said Guthrie, who has allowed just one earned run over his last 19 innings at Rogers Centre dating to 2011. "I think that's another responsibility of the starter is to go out and work as deep as you can. [But] we have a good bullpen and, ultimately, I think that's why Ned went to them because they have been phenomenal all season."
Guthrie's strong start was aided by some strong defensive play from his outfielders.
In the first, Gordon came up with a big throw to nail an over-aggressive Goins at third base. Goins, who hit a one-out single, tried to go from first to third on a shallow base hit to left by Encarnacion, but Gordon's throw narrowly beat the rookie to the bag.
Gordon wasn't done. In the seventh, he nailed Josh Thole, who drove in Toronto's first run, as he attempted to stretch a single into a double. The two assists -- the fifth time Gordon has accomplished the feat in his career -- upped his total to 14 on the season, which is tops among Major League outfielders.
Right fielder David Lough also recorded an assist when he threw out Jose Reyes, who ripped a ball down the right-field line and tried to stretch the scorcher into extra bases, at second base in the fifth for the second out of the inning.
It was the ninth time in franchise history the Royals have recorded three outfield assists in one game.
Kansas City got its two runs early off Dickey before the knuckleballer settled down. Escobar struck first with an RBI single in the second inning, and Eric Hosmer followed suit in the third after Bonifacio began the frame with a leadoff triple.
Dickey went on to log eight innings while striking out six and walking two to earn his 16th quality start of the season.
"Really changed speeds good on the knuckleball and got us out front. We just couldn't grab a hold of it," Yost said about Dickey.
Ace James Shields will get the ball for Sunday's finale, looking to help the Royals avoid a three-game sweep.