TORONTO -- They were hanging over the dugout rail, smiling, laughing and wide-eyed after Cliff Pennington fired his first fastball with two outs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night. His Blue Jays teammates were going to savor this rare moment, one of the laugh-so-you-don't-cry variety.
Pennington's historic appearance in Toronto's 14-2 loss to the Royals in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series -- he became the first pure position player to pitch in postseason history -- was a sign of a larger issue. The Blue Jays' bullpen, due to both injury and circumstance, is essentially in shambles as Kansas City sits one win shy of reaching its second straight World Series.
"It was ugly today, no doubt about that," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team is facing the tall odds of a 3-1 deficit in this best-of-seven series, with Game 5 on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, 4 p.m. game time). "That's all I can say."
Save for an admirable outing from reliever Liam Hendriks, who went 4 1/3 shutout innings after knuckleballer R.A. Dickey bowed out after allowing five runs and recording only five outs, Toronto's bullpen was a mess again on Tuesday. The relief corps coughed up four runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and two in the ninth to turn a tough game into an impossible one.
This postseason, the Blue Jays' bullpen has turned in a 10.29 ERA, allowing 16 earned runs in 14 innings through Toronto's nine playoff games.
The Blue Jays are without lefty Brett Cecil -- felled by a tear in his left calf in the AL Division Series. Toronto has tried to work around a sensitive situation with lefty Aaron Loup, who missed part of the ALDS, and went home again Tuesday to tend to a family matter. Veteran LaTroy Hawkins (seven runs in 1 2/3 innings) has struggled, and Gibbons has tried to avoid over-using his top relief arms.
That is why Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez did not take the mound in Tuesday's loss. They each logged work in Game 3, and Gibbons did not want to risk using them in three straight games. Now, if needed, they will be ready for multiple innings in Game 5. Gibbons would not say whether ace David Price would also be available in an all-hands-on-deck scenario on Wednesday.
"Down three runs, you don't really want to use your go-to guys," said Gibbons, who was working with a 5-2 deficit before the bullpen's imposion in the seventh inning. "If it pulled closer, you might have seen one of those guys. But, I figured [we'd get] some outs along the way. We weren't able to do that at all, basically."
The lone silver lining existed with Hendriks.
"He saved what could have gotten nightmarish for us really quickly," Dickey said. "We're already down one with Loupy gone. [Hendriks] did an incredible job. I can't say enough about him."
Gibbons was not entirely comfortable with how long he left Hendriks on the mound, either.
"That was his limit, really," Gibbons said. "It was borderline abuse."
Hawkins took over in the seventh and immediately issued a walk and allowed a pair of singles to load the bases with no outs. Gibbons had to pull the plug and handed the ball to Ryan Tepera for his first appearance of the postseason. He surrendered a pair of sacrifice flies and gave up an RBI single to Lorenzo Cain in the seventh, and then yielded three more runs in the eighth.
When Mark Lowe also ran into two-out trouble in the ninth, Gibbons opted to hand the ball to Pennington (an infielder) rather than burn another arm from his depleted 'pen. Facing Pennington, Paulo Orlando delivered a single and Alcides Escobar padded Kansas City's lead with a two-run base hit of his own.
Watching Pennington pitch provided a moment of levity for Toronto's players, but it was a sign of how desperate things have become for the Blue Jays' bullpen.
"It was getting so ugly," Gibbons said. "You try to have a little pride, anyway. I hate to use position players. Maybe we made history today."