By Jeffrey Flanagan and Gregor Chisholm
TORONTO -- The Royals are one win from going to the World Series for the second consecutive year after putting a stranglehold on the American League Championship Series with another victory over the Blue Jays.
Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios homered for Kansas City, which scored early and often for a 14-2 victory in Game 4 at Rogers Centre on Tuesday. With a commanding 3-1 series lead, the Royals have a chance to clinch the AL pennant with a victory in Game 5 on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, with game time slated for 4 p.m.).
"We've still got work to do," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "This feels good, but we know how good that team is over there."
The Blue Jays once again have their backs against the wall and will have to win three games in a row to advance. Teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven Championship Series are 29-7 all-time, so Kansas City is clearly in the driver's seat, but Toronto can at least fall back on the fact that it rallied from an 0-2 deficit to beat Texas in the AL Division Series.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was responsible for putting the Blue Jays in the early hole. He allowed four runs in the first inning, including a two-run homer by Zobrist, and another in the second before he was pulled after recording just five total outs. Dickey departed with a five-run deficit, and Toronto never recovered.
"This team is a really good team," Dickey said of the Royals. "They spit on a lot of good knuckleballs, and they hit the ones that were a little bit flatter. Two singles and two home runs, and I'm out of the game -- it happened really quickly. This is, like, my 103rd start with the Blue Jays, and this is the first time I've gone this short, so it was the anomaly for sure, but it was a poor time to have the anomaly."
Kansas City right-hander Chris Young came within one out of picking up the second postseason victory of his career, but he was pulled with two outs in the fifth. He allowed two runs on three hits and a pair of walks while striking out four. The only real sign of difficulty Young encountered was in the fourth, when he surrendered an RBI double to Josh Donaldson.
Royals manager Ned Yost is feeling pretty good about where his team is.
"We feel good about it," Yost said. "I felt great going into this game because we had Chris Young on the mound, and I felt he would give us a really, really good performance.
"We like the way we're playing right now. Our offense has been really, really good. We have [Edinson] Volquez coming back tomorrow, our defense is always spectacular and our bullpen is primed to go tomorrow, too.
"We didn't have to use Wade [Davis]. We have Danny Duffy if we need him for multiple innings tomorrow. Kelvin [Herrera] and [Ryan] Madson had short stints today, so they'll be ready to go tomorrow, and so will [Luke Hochevar]. We're in really good shape."
But Young cautioned that they can't get too giddy yet.
"We haven't won anything yet," Young said. "Toronto is such a good team. We have to come back and play hard and play our game tomorrow."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED The homer is Ben's friend: Zobrist went into the game hitting .355 in the postseason, and on Monday he belted three doubles, establishing a club record for the postseason. He wasted no time staying hot on Tuesday. After Alcides Escobar reached on a bunt single, Zobrist clobbered a Dickey knuckler into the seats in right-center, and the Royals bolted ahead, 2-0, en route to a four-run first. Zobrist had a two-homer game earlier this season at Rogers Centre.
"It's always great to get off to a good start," Young said. "You don't really change your approach, but it's always better working with the lead."
Dickey down and out: Dickey returned to the mound after a four-run first inning, but his second didn't go much better. He began the inning by retiring Alex Gordon, then surrendered a solo home run to Rios. Dickey hit Escobar and later walked Lorenzo Cain before being pulled with two men on and two outs in the second. The 1 2/3-inning outing from Dickey was the shortest by a Blue Jays pitcher in postseason history. More >
"It wasn't hardly a week ago I was in the dugout with a 7-1 lead, and you're feeling good," Dickey said. "Now I got beat up. You play this game long enough, you're going to have outings like that. The thing to do is try to turn the page as quickly as possible. It hurts a little bit worse because it was on this stage. You've got to deal with that. We're all grown men here."
Plucking away: After falling behind, 5-0, the Blue Jays started to battle back in the third inning off Young. Ryan Goins singled, and Ben Revere followed with a walk to put runners on first and second with one out. Donaldson then followed with a ground-rule RBI double to the corner in left field. Toronto added its second run of the inning on a groundout by Jose Bautista; Donaldson was left stranded at second.
"It definitely makes the task at hand more difficult, but we're all professionals here," Donaldson said of the loss and being down 3-1 in the series. "We went out there and tried to grind it out as much as we could and fell short today."
Hochevar dealing: Hochevar, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and was essentially a cheerleader during the 2014 postseason, is right in the thick of this season's run. Hochevar came up huge in Game 2 by getting the Royals out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation without allowing a run. That helped them rally for a win. On Tuesday, Hochevar came in with one on and two out with Donaldson up in the fifth and the Blue Jays thinking comeback, and he got Donaldson to foul out. Then Hochevar gave Yost three more outs in the sixth, allowing Yost to go with three more relievers in the final three innings.
"You just have to have the mind-set that you don't want to fall behind," Hochevar said of his matchup with Donaldson. "It's a tight game there. You don't want to walk him, and you want to be aggressive. But it's a fine line. He's a good hitter. I was fortunate to make a good pitch there." More >
Pennington pitches: With the Blue Jays trailing, 12-2, in the ninth inning, Toronto manager John Gibbons called on utility man Cliff Pennington to spare the club's beleaguered bullpen. Pennington became the first full-time position player in history to pitch in a postseason game. He allowed two hits before retiring Zobrist to end the frame. More >
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With his RBI single in the seventh, Cain has hit in 13 straight postseason games, extending his Royals' club record.
Escobar had two singles and two sacrifice flies and became the first hitter in postseason history to have leadoff hits in the first inning in four straight games.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Gibbons used his first challenge in the top of the first, when Cain attempted to score from third on a passed ball. Dickey's knuckleball got away from catcher Russell Martin, and the throw back to the plate was not in time. Home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called Cain safe, and the play was confirmed via replay.
The Royals challenged a ruling in the top of the second, when a pitch went inside to Escobar and was ruled a foul tip. After a review, the call was changed to a hit-by-pitch. After advancing to second on Zobrist's groundout, Escobar was picked off to end the inning.
The Blue Jays used another challenge in the top of the fourth inning, when Rios stole second base. Rios was called safe, but when he popped up from his slide, his foot came off the bag for a split second. Goins kept his glove on Rios the entire time, and after the call went to review, it was overturned following a brief delay.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Volquez will take the mound in Game 5 at Rogers Centre. Volquez was dominant in Game 1 of the ALCS, allowing just two hits over six shutout innings while striking out six in a 5-0 win.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada will take the mound in Game 5 for what will be the final ALCS game at Rogers Centre. Estrada got the start in Game 1, but he had mixed results, allowing three runs over 5 1/3 innings. The outing could have been a lot worse, but even though Estrada was able to limit the damage, he took the loss after being outpitched by Volquez.