Royals didn't knock him around in Game 2, but delivered several 'great at-bats'
By Richard Justice
KANSAS CITY -- Blue Jays left-hander David Price threw too many changeups in that seventh inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday. Any knucklehead could see that. That has to be it, right?
Or maybe he didn't throw enough changeups. Yeah, that's it. Too many changeups.
On the other hand, maybe the whole thing was about location. Price had pitched six high-stress innings and was simply out of gas. Couldn't locate the baseball where he wanted. Breaking stuff lacked its usual crispness.
So this one is on the manager. John Gibbons should have gotten Price out of there before the game unraveled. Let's not overthink this thing.
Maybe that's not it, either.
It has to be pitch selection. That one makes sense, too. Price struck out Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer twice on changeups earlier in the game. He never should have gone back to that well a third time in the seventh. That's Baseball 101.
And so it goes …
As Price prepares to start Game 6 of the American League Championship Series tonight (7 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, with game time slated for 8 p.m.), everyone has a theory about what happened to Price that day. He'd sailed into the seventh inning having retired 18 straight Royals. The Blue Jays led, 3-0. This was the game that would end some of the questions about Price's postseason issues. Finally.
Only it just got worse.
Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist's pop fly was allowed to fall into shallow right field to open the inning, and that opened the floodgates. Four of the next six Royals reached base on three singles and a double, and when it ended, a 3-0 Toronto lead had become a 6-3 deficit.
What happened? Maybe the real answer is the most boring. First, the Royals happened. This is who they are. They were last in the AL in walks. They were last in strikeouts. They were next-to-last in home runs.
Yet only five AL teams scored more runs than the Royals. They did it with good, smart, aggressive at-bats. They put the ball in play. They hit the ball in the gaps -- third in the AL in doubles, fourth in triples, second in stolen bases.
And that one inning was Kansas City at its best. After the pop fly didn't get caught, the Royals had three opposite-field hits in a row. Maybe Price didn't get the ball precisely where he wanted it, but the Royals deserve some credit for simply taking what was there.
Alex Gordon had the only hit that went for extra bases. It was a double on the eighth pitch of a tremendous at-bat. Price emptied his arsenal that inning, throwing fastballs, cutters, breaking pitches and changeups. In that inning, the Royals, a team that's 153-98 since July 22, 2014, won the battle.
Price understands that he'll have to live with his postseason storyline. In seven playoff starts, he's 0-7 with a 5.44 ERA. His attitude about those numbers reflects the sign hanging in his locker at Rogers Centre: "If you don't like it, pitch better."
He got that from one of his mentors, James Shields, when they were teammates with Tampa Bay.
"I guess I have to prove that I can pitch at this point in the season in the playoffs," he said. "I get that."
That's what's called accountability. That's one of many reasons he'll be one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason. In the past three seasons, he's fourth among all starters in innings (655 1/3), sixth in strikeouts (647), eighth in victories (43) and 15th in ERA (3.01).
"I don't have to go out there and prove that I'm a good pitcher," he said. "I think I've done that over the seven years of my career."
Now about that seventh inning of Game 2: misplayed pop, three singles, one double.
"That's what Kansas City does," Price said. "They don't hit a ton of home runs. They definitely have a lot of guys in the lineup that can hit homers, but that's not what they try to do. They try to string hits together, put the pressure on the defense with their team speed, steal bases, produce runs with outs, and that's what they've done really well. That's how they won the Central. That's how they got to the World Series last year, pitching and defense and timely hitting, and that's what they did in the seventh inning."
Gibbons agreed, saying when he looked at how the inning unfolded, he believed Price's stuff was still good, that he was still Toronto's best option.
"They did a great job," Gibbons said of the Royals. "He was cruising to that point. He was strong. He hadn't labored at all to that point. I saw the highlights, the videos, the pitches of him, really, it was great at-bats. There were some great at-bats like we had [Wednesday] night that turned into walks, that kind of thing. But I thought they did a heck of a job. It was one of those things where everything kept snowballing. Sometimes when that happens, it's tough to stop it. That was probably part of it, too."
Whatever it was, Price knows only he can rewrite the story. The Blue Jays are confident he'll do just that as they attempt to win their fifth elimination game of this postseason.
"You get to be one of the elite pitchers in the game for a reason," Gibbons said. "Those are kind of the guys that get you here. Without David we're not here, anyway. I'm glad he's going [Friday]. I'm not hesitant one bit to throw him out there."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.