By Bob Elliott
KANSAS CITY _ The easy pop up plopped onto the plush Kauffman Stadium grass to open the bottom of the seventh.
If a catchable ball falls in woods or a noisy stadium does it make a noise?
Does anyone hear it?
Does it have any impact on a game?
Does Playboy run nude photos?
No, to the men’s magazine and yes to the impact of the easy pop up.
It was the pebble that caused the avalanche.
What happened made for as memorable a seventh inning for the Kansas City Royals on Saturday afternoon as Game 5 for the Blue Jays was against the Texas Rangers.
Blue Jays lefty David Price had dominated throughout the first six innings. He allowed a lead-off single on the first pitch of the game and then set down 18 consecutive in order with a 3-0 lead.
Could missing the 19th out be that disruptive?
Well, 29 pitches later in the seventh the Royals had scored five times on their way to a 6-3 victory and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven, American League Championship Series. Game 3 is Monday at the Rogers Centre.
Price has modified his delivery so much that there is little difference between him throwing to the plate on the first pitch of the game or with men on base.
And now Ben Zobrist was on after Ryan Goins pulled away from what looked like a harmless pop up, the kind that goes up, the pitcher, the dugout, the manager and the pitching coach breath a sign of relief. And up on the 500 Level the scribes and mike men are about to write down an out in their score books.
Put it in the book as the saying goes ... ah hold on a second ... man on first.
“What was I thinking after the ball fell?” repeated Price. “It happens, it’s baseball. It didn’t affect me mentally. I was thinking about getting a double play ball after that.”
Lorenzo Cain singled to right on a 1-1 pitch and left-handed hitting Eric Hosmer hit a 1-1 change to centre making it a 3-1.
Kendry Morales hit an 0-1 pitch up the middle and Price showed his frustration as Troy Tulowitzki, who had a good day at the plate, was only able to get the out at first base since Hosmer was on the move with the pitch.
“I was surprised he was running in that situation,” said Price. “I haven’t given up a stolen base all year. Those SABR stat geeks don’t know that stat.”
Now, the Jays lead was down to 3-2 with a man on second. Price threw a 1-2 fastball on the corner to Mike Moustakas which plate ump Laz Diaz called a ball.
“I’m not going to comment on umpiring,” Price said. “Those guys have a difficult enough job to do.”
Moustakas singled to right tying the game. Again another left-handed hitter hit a change.
An out later, Alex Gordon hit the eighth pitch of his at-bat for a run-scoring double -- the best hit ball of the inning -- and he scored on an Alex Rios single off reliever Aaron Sanchez.
That was it for Price: 66 pitches to get 18 outs in order.
Then, 30 pitches to get the next two.
“I wasn’t thinking about getting the win, I was thinking about going seven,” Price told reporters.
Price faced seven men, five reached and five scored. The Royals have three left-handed hitters and two switch hitters in their lineup. The Jays are without their best reliever in lefty Brett Cecil.
Sanchez, lefty Aaron Loup and Mark Lowe faced eight Royals and five reached on three hits and two walks.
The lefty acquired at the trade deadline to much fanfare and popcorn has now made seven career post-season starts with the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and the Blue Jays. He’s 2-7 -- both wins coming in relief -- with a 5.24 ERA, walking 11 and striking out 51 in 56 2/3 innings.
Was it unfair to expect a dominant ace to retire more than two men in 29 pitches after the pop up fell into no man’s or no glove’s land on the first pitch of the seventh?
The seventh inning was unfair to more than Price the longer it lasted.
VIEW FROM RIGHT FIELD: Jose Bautista thought Price had the first out of the seventh in his back pocket.
“I thought I had a chance to catch it off the bat,” Bautista told reporters, “I was called off.”
Zobrist reached on what should have been the first out and then the hits started falling in.
“It wasn’t like they were hitting the ball off the fences against David,” said one teammate, “they were staying back, hitting the ball the other way.”
Quicker than the ball fell untouched, the Royals rallied.
“You don’t think after the ball falls in, that it’s the start of a five-run rally,” said Bautista. “It was one small mistake. It’s disappointing ... a ball that should have been caught.”
Bautista said that the Jays have been in this situation before down 2-0 as they were earlier to the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series.
“And then we went on the road after losing two,” said Bautista. “Now, we are going home. Our fans will be supportive as always. We have the experience of being down 2-0, it’s not ideal, but at least our back are not against the wall as they were going to Texas.”
HOTTER THAN TEXAS: The Royals have now won nine consecutive ALCS games.
Two against the Blue Jays.
Four straight in a sweep over the Baltimore Orioles last year to advance to the World Series.
And three in a row against the 1985 Blue Jays.
The Jays went up 3-1 when Lloyd Moseby and Al Oliver hit run-scoring doubles in the ninth for a 3-1 win in Game 4.
Then Danny Jackson pitched a 2-0 shut out in Game 5.
Mark Gubicza beat Doyle Alexander at Exhibition Stadium 5-3 to force a Game 6.
And in Game 7 Jim Sundberg’s triple off Dave Stieb turned a 2-1 K.C. lead into a 5-1 margin in the sixth inning.
The longest ALCS winning streak of all time belongs to the Orioles, who won 10 in a row between 1969-73
HUMM BABY: Royals Game 1 starter Edinson Volquez averaged 93.7 on his fastball and sinker this season, according to Fangraphs. On Friday he threw 10 pitches at 97 mph, 18 at 96, 27 at 95 and nine at 94. Brooksbaseball had Volquez’s average velocity on his fastball and sinker at 95.7. Against the Houston Astros they had him averaging 95.9.
“It’s that post-season juice right there,” first baseman Hosmer said. “He’s always had the life, but to add the velocity to that, that’s the best we’ve seen him, I think, all year.”
89 YEARS AGO: Barnstorming Babe Ruth and Urban Shocker of the New York Yankee ringers played in an exhibition game in Montreal. The Associated Press reported: “Babe Ruth stopped a perfectly good ball game, knocking 36 balls out of the grounds, he forced the game to be called shortly after the start of the ninth inning because the management had no more spheres.”
WAKE UP CALL: In 247 regular-season games since Moustakas return on June 1 last year from a 10-day demotion to the minors he has hit .266 with 33 home runs, tied with Salvador Perez for the Royals team lead in that stretch, and 119 RBI, nine behind team leader Eric Hosmer, eight fewer than Perez.
And the Royals, who were 26-29 when he was recalled, are 158-111 (587), best record in the AL, earning a wild-card invite that took them to the World Series last year and an AL Central title this year.
SEVENTH INNING REACT: The seventh inning of the Blue Jays Game 5 win over Texas is still being talked about.
“I have been a player, umpire, fan, scorekeeper, coach, manager and general manager for 57 years. Every time I am arrogant enough to think I have seen everything that can happen in this game along comes the seventh inning.” _ John Jepson, Toronto Mets.
IF ELECTED: White House press secretary Josh Earnest a Royals fan was looking to make a bet on the ALCS with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas. The Washington Post reported when Earnest said his Royals were “ready to take on Ted Cruz’s other hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays.” Cruz was born in Calgary when his family was living there because his father worked in the oil industry. They moved when he was four, Cruz grew up in Texas, attending Princeton University and Harvard Law.