An early flurry, a late barrage and nine innings of white-knuckled pitching have delivered the Royals to the doorstep of their second World Series berth in a row. Kansas City rebounded to capture a 14-2 victory over Toronto in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, and now own a 3-1 lead in the race to the Fall Classic.
In his first playoff start in nine years, Chris Young limited the Blue Jays to two runs on three hits. He exited with two outs in the fifth, so manager Ned Yost could prevent Josh Donaldson from receiving a third crack at him. Luke Hochevar got a pop up from Donaldson to defuse the threat.
Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios each boomed home runs off Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who could not complete the second inning. The Royals unleashed a four-run fusillade in the seventh against the flammable relief duo of LaTroy Hawkins and Ryan Tepera. The Royals hounded Tepera for three more runs in the eighth.
Now Edinson Volquez has a chance to prevent this series from returning to Kauffman Stadium. He will start Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Centre, in a rematch against Game 1 counterpart Marco Estrada.
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“We fell good. We like the way we’re playing right now. Our offense has been really, really good,” Yost said.
A day after Johnny Cueto self-immolated on the mound, the Royals benefited from an implosion by Dickey. He exited the fray after recording only five outs. He allowed five runs.
Acquired by Toronto before the 2013 season, Dickey has yet to replicate the form he displayed when he won the National League Cy Young Award with the Mets in 2012. He did provide competence, especially in the climate-controlled atmosphere at Rogers Centre. Dickey held opponents to a .197 batting average at home and went 6-0 in his last eight starts here with a 1.94 ERA.
The past success did not aid him on Tuesday. Alcides Escobar led off with a bunt single. The ball looked to be drifting foul, but third baseman Josh Donaldson tried to field it anyway.
The knuckleball can behave like a gnat, diving and darting without warning. It can also laze over the plate like a butterfly. Zobrist received the latter. He walloped a harmless, 78-mph pitch into the stands in right.
Like all pitchers, Dickey needs to throw strikes to survive. He walked Lorenzo Cain, who soon stole second. Eric Hosmer roped a single into center. Wary of Kevin Pillar’s arm, third-base coach Mike Jirschele held Cain.
The discretion did not harm Kansas City. Dickey lost control of a knuckleball that zipped past catcher Russell Martin. Cain beat the tag from Dickey for a third run. Hosmer completed the rally when he scored on Mike Moustakas’ sacrifice fly.
The flurry sucked the life out of Rogers Centre. The fans hounded Cueto on Monday, as he preened in the face of their taunts before collapsing. Now the crowd sat on its hands as Dickey floundered.
A round of jeers greeted Rios when he came to hit in the second. Dickey threw two knucklers for balls. He was forced to use his tepid fastball. Rios silenced the park by rifling a solo shot. Dickey left soon after.
The Blue Jays returned fire in the third. Second baseman Ryan Goins collected his team’s first hit with a bloop to center. Young walked outfielder Ben Revere on four pitches. The pair of plays created an undesirable scenario for Young: Facing Donaldson and Jose Bautista with runners on base.
Donaldson smoked a full-count slider for a double into left. The Royals caught a break when the ball bounced over the fence, but Bautista still scored Revere with a grounder. The lead slimmed to three runs.
Revere rankled Young again in the fifth. He slapped a single with two outs, a hit that brought Yost out of the dugout. He removed Young for Hochevar. He challenged Donaldson with a cutter over the middle. Donaldson swung late and lofted an out that fell into Hosmer’s glove.
Yost stuck with Hochevar for the sixth. After a leadoff single by Bautista, Hochevar induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of ailing designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. Hochevar produced another grounder to end the inning.
After Dickey left the game, former Royal Liam Hendriks stymied his opponents for 4 1/3 scoreless frames. The spell broke as soon as Hawkins entered the game in the seventh. He walked Salvador Perez, gave up a single to Gordon and allowed another hit by Rios.
“I just felt that Alex was going to have a great day today,” Yost said of Rios, who finished 3 for 3.
Toronto manager John Gibbons had seen enough. Hawkins was gone, but few reliable alternatives remained. He chose Tepera, a 27-year-old rookie making his postseason debut. The moment — and the Royals — swallowed him up.
Escobar lofted a sacrifice fly. Gordon scored on a wild pitch. Cain extended his postseason hitting streak to 13 games with an RBI single. And Hosmer finished the scoring with another sacrifice fly.