The game’s longest half inning became the Blue Jays’ best opportunity to climb back into Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Royals.
The Blue Jays tried to wear down Royals’ starter Edinson Volquez. But in the end, Volquez endured and carried his team to a 5-0 victory on Friday.
Toronto trailed 3-0 when Josh Donaldson led off the sixth inning. This marked the third time through the lineup for Volquez, and the Blue Jays spent their first two turns chasing Volquez’s fastballs, sinkers and change ups.
They were going to make Volquez come to them.
“We thought we had a chance to get him there at the end,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
The meat of the order had its opportunity, and the first two — Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista — each drew nine-pitch walks.
Two on, none out and Volquez had lost two faceoffs. The Royals’ most consistent starter throughout the season was facing his biggest challenge of the game.
But instead of wobbling, Volquez regained his composure. He blew a 95-mph fastball past Edwin Encarnacion for a strikeout. That turned out to be the final appearance of the game for the Blue Jays designated hitter.
Encarnacion aggravated an injury on the middle finger of his left hand and left the game after the plate appearance. X-rays were taken before the end of the game, and Gibbons said his availability for Game 2 on Saturday would be determined before the game.
Volquez faced Chris Colabello and on the seventh pitch of the at-bat — and 29th of the inning — the Blue Jays put a barrel on the ball for the only time the frame. Colabello flied out to left fielder Alex Gordon.
The inning’s momentum had shifted back to Volquez, but he still had to contend with Troy Tulowitzki, who worked a full count. Tulowitzki fouled off one pitch, then watched a fastball sail by for the third strike.
Volquez pumped his fist as walked off the mound, knowing his night was finished. He had tossed 111 pitches, struck out five, walked four.
“It was a long inning, but I was happy to stay under control and make a lot of good pitches to get out from under that inning,” Volquez said. “The key for that, I think, is don’t panic. Stay under control and make a lot of good pitches.”
The Royals’ staff has made plenty of excellent pitches over the past two games, starting Wednesday with Johnny Cueto in the American League Division Series clincher against the Astros. He surrendered two hits and two runs in the second inning, and the Royals have not given up a run since then, a span of 16 innings.
That’s a Royals’ postseason record. Volquez contributed with his excellent performance.
“He was pumped up, and the ball was moving a lot,” Blue Jays left fielder Ben Revere said. “I was surprised, but now it’s all about the playoffs and you’re going to get the best out of these pitchers. You have to be ready for it and hopefully we are tomorrow.”
Volquez turned the game over to the bullpen, and the Royals didn’t waver. Kelvin Herrera threw gas in the seventh inning, nine pitches, all in the strike zone, and two strikeouts.
Ryan Madson, who had been shaky during the regular season against the Blue Jays, who hit .600 against him, put two on. But Madson’s change-up got an off-balance swing from pinch hitter Justin Smoak, who popped out to first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Madson then coaxed a ground ball from Colabello that turned into a fielder’s choice, keeping the Blue Jays off the board.
The ninth inning did not belong to closer Wade Davis. With the Royals holding a five-run lead, manager Ned Yost turned to Luke Hochevar to finish what Volquez had started. The shutout was preserved, and Volquez had his first victory in four career postseason starts.
The Blue Jays were held without an extra base hit in a game for the first time since July 9.
“(Volquez) shut down a really good hitting team,” Gibbons said. “His ball was ducking and darting everywhere. He got out of that sixth inning and completed that thing. He was that good tonight.”