The Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals combined for 19 runs in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday. The Royals did all the slugging on their own in Tuesday's Game 4, a dominant 14-2 victory that gave them a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Kansas City is now one win away from its second consecutive World Series appearance.
Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios each hit a home run for the Royals, and Alcides Escobar led the way with four RBI from the leadoff spot. Every Kansas City starter except Mike Moustakas notched at least one base hit, and the top three batters in the order (Escobar, Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain) combined for nine RBI.
ESPN Stats & Info noted it was a historical breakthrough for the Royals offense:
To put things in perspective for the homestanding Blue Jays, the best moment of Tuesday's game came in the top of the ninth inning when infielder Cliff Pennington entered the contest as a relief pitcher. It was a metaphorical concession by manager John Gibbons, and Toronto now has its back against the wall.
While Kansas City lost Game 3, it put four runs on the board in the ninth inning to turn a blowout into a three-run deficit. The Royals in Game 4 picked up where they left off, scoring four runs in the top of the first to seize control.
Zobrist hit a two-run homer, Cain scored on a passed ball and Moustakas notched a sacrifice fly. Jesse Spector of Sporting News highlighted how quickly Kansas City has struck in this series:
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted how long it's been since Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey struggled so much at home:
Dickey's troubles continued in the second, when he gave up a solo home run to Rios that made it 5-0. Toronto lifted him after 1.2 innings, and Adnan Virk of ESPN pointed to the contrast between Dickey's performance and that of Noah Syndergaard, who was part of the package the Blue Jays traded to the New York Mets to get Dickey before the 2013 season:
Even with Dickey's lackluster performance, Toronto climbed back into the game on an RBI double by Josh Donaldson and an RBI groundout by Jose Bautista in the bottom of the third.
The Blue Jays stayed within striking distance through the middle innings because of Liam Hendriks, who pitched 4.1 innings of shutout baseball in relief of Dickey and allowed a single hit. Blake Price of TSN 1040 highlighted how important Hendricks' effort was:
Any lift Toronto got from Hendriks quickly disappeared, however, when LaTroy Hawkins and Ryan Tepera pitched the seventh. Hawkins gave up three earned runs without recording an out, and Tepera allowed another earned run. Suddenly, it was 9-2 Royals, and the game was essentially over.
Hawkins does not have a strikeout against the 14 batters he's faced this postseason, and David Schoenfield of ESPN acknowledged Tuesday may have been the last time the pitcher took the mound:
Cain singled during the rally, and ESPN Stats & Info noted the historical significance of the hit:
Things got even worse for the Blue Jays in the eighth, when the Royals put three more runs on the board. Escobar started the scoring with a sacrifice fly, and Spector pointed out Kansas City made some history in the process:
The Dan Le Batard Show offered a plan for Toronto to come back from its double-digit deficit in the final two innings:
Alas, that wasn't an option, and the combination of Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera and Franklin Morales pitched a combined 4.1 innings of shutout ball from the Royals bullpen.
The fans who did stay for the ninth were rewarded with a pitching appearance by Pennington, who logged 0.1 innings and didn't give up a run, although he did allow two inherited runners to score. Passan was impressed by Pennington's heat, while CBS Sports noted the infielder etched his name in baseball lore:
Morales closed the door on Toronto in the bottom of the ninth after the brief excitement of Pennington on the mound. The World Series is within Kansas City's reach.
The Royals will have an opportunity to finish the series in Toronto on Wednesday. The Blue Jays must find a way to win in front of their raucous fans; otherwise, their magical season will come to an end.
If Kansas City loses Game 5, it will have two games at home to win the series.
Edinson Volquez will toe the rubber for the Royals on Wednesday. He dominated Game 1 with six innings of shutout work, allowing only two hits and striking out five.
Marco Estrada will try his luck against Volquez again after surrendering three runs in 5.1 innings in Game 1. But Estrada was impressive in a divisional series against the Texas Rangers and was one of his team's best pitchers this year at home, where he boasted a 2.95 ERA and .195 batting average against.
The 32-year-old must keep that going if Toronto is to keep its World Series dreams alive.
Discussion on the Royals' side naturally focused on the offensive explosion.
First baseman Eric Hosmer talked about his team's adjustments at the plate, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com): "We're a good offensive team. Our park, our style of play is a little different. We like to use our legs and be athletic, but when we come to some of these parks where the fences aren't as deep, we've got some guys that can put the ball in the seats."
This team is a really good team. 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.
Gibbons was already looking ahead to the next contest for his Blue Jays, per the Associated Press: "It's a do-or-die game for us. But they do it all year. I think these guys will let this one go and they'll show up to play tomorrow. ... I know these guys will be ready."
Gibbons isn't the only manager who is confident heading into Game 5. The Royals' Ned Yost talked about his team's mindset, per Flanagan and Chisholm:
We like the way we're playing right now. Our offense has been really, really good. We have 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 and Madson had short stints today, so they'll be ready to go tomorrow, and so will [Hochevar]. We're in really good shape.
The fact that Kansas City is in "really great shape" is a problem for a Toronto team that is one loss away from the end of its season.