The Kansas City Royals offense was non-existent for the first six innings of Saturday's showdown with the Toronto Blue Jays, but a seventh-inning explosion allowed the home team to win Game 2, 6-3, and take a 2-0 series lead in the American League Championship Series.
David Price entered Game 2 with an 0-6 record in postseason starts, and it appeared as though he was on his way to pitching the game of his career before the Royals posted a five-spot in the seventh inning.
Kansas City didn't have a baserunner in scoring position before the seventh, but a costly miscommunication between Toronto second baseman Ryan Goins and right fielder Jose Bautista allowed Ben Zobrist to reach safely and facilitate the rally.
Zobrist, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer all crossed the plate to tie the game before Alex Gordon delivered a two-out double to put the Royals up 4-3 and end Price's day. All told, Kansas City tallied six hits—including five singles—in the seventh inning to deal a death blow to the Blue Jays.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, season-long trends indicated the seventh inning would be pivotal:
Price allowed the first runner of the game to reach base, but he settled in and retired a postseason franchise-record 18 batters in a row between the first and sixth innings, per Fox Sports. However, the nasty postseason narrative that's followed Price throughout his career will continue to linger following the seventh-inning meltdown.
Price threw just 66 pitches over the first six innings Saturday, but he tallied 30 in the seventh. His teams have now lost all three playoff games in which he's held opponents scoreless through four innings, per ESPN Stats & Info.
ESPN's Karl Ravech discussed the dichotomy that defined Price's Game 2 performance:
Toronto struck first following back-to-back doubles from Goins and Kevin Pillar in the third inning, but the Blue Jays missed an early opportunity to pad the lead for Price.
Toronto had two men on with no outs in the top of the second, and Troy Tulowitzki came up with a chance to make an early statement. The Blue Jays' big trade-deadline acquisition was set down by Royals starter Yordano Ventura, though, and the Royals proceeded to escape the inning unscathed.
As MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm opined, Tulo appeared to be firmly mired in a slump:
However, Tulowitzki redeemed himself in the sixth inning, when the Blue Jays appeared to seize control of the contest.
Edwin Encarnacion worked a seven-pitch at-bat that resulted in an RBI single to left field, and Tulowitzki followed up with an RBI double to right field to give the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead.
The story was a familiar one for Ventura, who was pulled with one out in the sixth inning. Although he didn't top 15 pitches in any of the first five innings, he sputtered to the tune of 31 pitches in the sixth before Ned Yost brought Luke Hochevar in to settle things down.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan pointed out a major trend with regard to Ventura's struggles:
Ventura allowed three earned runs and eight hits over 5.1 innings while striking out six and walking two. In three starts this postseason, he has failed to make it through six innings.
The Royals' rally was the story, but pitching should continue to dominate the headlines as the series moves forward. Monday's Game 3 has the potential to be a pitcher's duel, with Marcus Stroman and Johnny Cueto slated to square off.
Stroman finished the regular season 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA after returning from injury. His counterpart, Cueto, will try to put together a repeat performance of Kansas City's Game 5 American League Division Series win as the scene shifts north of the border.
While the sample size is small, Stroman went 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA at home during the regular season. And even though that mark ticked up to 3.46 during the ALDS, he has the stuff to keep the Royals guessing.
Cueto hasn't been great on the road this season, posting a 3.80 ERA, but if his confidence from Wednesday's series clincher carries over, the Royals will be in business. Expect the drama to continue as the ALCS intensity ramps up in front of a raucous Toronto crowd.
According to the official post-game press conference transcript provided by ASAP Sports, Yost told reporters he isn't surprised by such wild comebacks anymore:
No. You knew somewhere over the course of the game that we were going to mount some type of challenge there. Seriously, the first six innings was really tough to see. The glare off the backdrop made it tough. And as soon as the seventh inning came we started to get the shadow back there, I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but that's when we started to get a nice run going.
On the other hand, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons had to address the play that turned the game for his team, per ASAP Sports:
Yeah, the way I saw it it looked like Ryan kind of held him off a little bit and he might have backed Jose up a little bit and the ball dropped in. They were looking for that one crack because David was so good. And Cain followed up and some good at-bats, but David was so good tonight that it's a shame it had to end that way.
Toronto couldn't catch a break following Goins' mistake, but Price didn't believe his performance dropped off in the seventh inning, per the National Post's John Lott:
Stroman, meanwhile, offered optimism entering Game 3:
"Our back is against the wall, but it will be good to go back home where we normally play well," Gibbons said, according to ASAP Sports. "We'll have Stromy going on Monday. We feel good. It's a lot tougher from here. But we have a pretty good team, too."