ARLINGTON -- The worst nightmare for the Blue Jays in Game 4 of their American League Division Series against the Rangers was a big Texas number on the scoreboard early with Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey looking for a groove. Sure enough, as ace left-hander David Price loosened up in the bullpen in the second inning, it was a four-run game, courtesy of home runs off hanging pitches.
The big numbers, however, were on the Blue Jays' side -- four runs off three homers within the first eight batters, providing half the output in an 8-4 Toronto win that forced a Game 5 on Wednesday at Rogers Centre (4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1/Sportsnet). The struggling pitcher wasn't Dickey, but Rangers lefty Derek Holland. And as Dickey corralled his knuckleball and worked through the Texas order, his teammates couldn't have set him up any better.
"If you can script it, obviously, that's what you would want," said Josh Donaldson, whose two-run homer put Toronto ahead for good, five pitches in. "Give R.A. a little bit of breathing room right off the bat. That's kind of how we really played up to this point, and it was nice to come out today and do that."
For a team that led the Majors in home runs during the regular season but had been held to three in as many games this best-of-five series, it was about time. The big bats of the Blue Jays' lineup had shown signs of unleashing that brand of baseball again the previous couple games. On this day, though, Donaldson was the only big name to do it. The supporting blows were solo shots from Chris Colabello and Kevin Pillar.
By no means did the power surge seal the game, but it took the onus away from a knuckleball pitcher and moved it onto the hitters facing him. Essentially, the Rangers had to attack Dickey on his terms. And as the shadows of the late-afternoon Texas sun crept further toward home plate, the aggressiveness became even tougher.
"When you make mistakes over the middle of the plate, bats have a tendency to come alive," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "I think that's what happened early [with the Blue Jays], and hitting is contagious. When you see guys go up early and put good swings on the ball, it creates a certain confidence up and down the lineup and it frees the swings up."
All three homers came early in counts off Holland, who allowed a pair of three-homer outings in the regular season, five homers over his final three starts and 11 homers in 58 2/3 innings for the year.
Donaldson got a 93-mph fastball over the plate on a 1-0 count and sent it out to the opposite field, homering off Holland for the third time in 21 at-bats for his career. Three batters later, Colabello did the same with an elevated fastball at 94 mph on an 0-1 offering, lofting it out to nearly the same area. It was Colabello's first homer of the series after cooling off following a Game 2 RBI double. He added an RBI double two innings later.
"The beautiful thing about the postseason, I think for me, even when I was in the Minors, was the fact that one at-bat doesn't define your game, doesn't define your series," he said. "You can be the guy who is 0-for and take one big swing, and that can be the swing somebody remembers or the swing that helps your team get pushed over the top."
Pillar's homer was the exclamation point, as much for the landing as the timing. He drove a changeup out to left-center field and into the Blue Jays lineup, where Price was playing catch in anticipation of a relief appearance.
Price reached up and caught it on the fly.
"I told him before the game, hit me a ball in the bullpen so I can catch it," Price joked. "I'm playing catch with [Marcus] Stroman in I guess the second inning and it was hit right to me, so that was pretty cool. I got it authenticated. I don't know where it is right now, but that was pretty special."
The whole display was special. Considering what was at stake, it was necessary.
"That's the best part of our team: We don't have to rely on one guy, we don't have to rely on one bat, we don't have to rely on one pitcher," Colabello said. "And I think that is what has made us special all year."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.