Looking to ride their offensive wave to a final American League Championship Series victory, the Royals instead came up with their most futile performance of the postseason.
Baseball’s adage that momentum is as strong as the next day’s pitcher never seemed more appropriate than during the Blue Jays’ 7-1 victory in Game 5 of the ALCS on Wednesday.
A day after scoring 14 runs with 15 hits, which pushed their two-day total to 22 runs and 30 hits, the Royals scratched out just four hits.
The first came after Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada set down the first nine Royals in order. The second ended the shutout on Salvador Perez’s home run in the eighth.
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By then, the Blue Jays had built a comfortable advantage, and all the Royals could do was mutter to themselves as they carried their bat back to the dugout.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “But you have to have a short memory.”
That works both ways. The Royals have to cleanse from their palate the bad aftertaste of Wednesday’s outcome, just as they knew Tuesday’s 14-2 triumph in Game 4 would have nothing to do with the next day’s game.
The Royals were asked about momentum after their 11-8 loss in Game 3. Did the four runs they scored in the ninth inning, that added tension to what had been shaping up as a rout, give them a good feeling going into Tuesday’s game, in which they set several club postseason records?
Royals manager Ned Yost doesn’t believe in momentum, although it clearly looked like the Royals caught a vibe throughout last year’s postseason, when their AL Wild Card Game triumph triggered an eight-game winning streak, a postseason MLB record.
Wednesday, Estrada shut down the hottest Royals bats and kept the few cold ones on ice.
Alcides Escboar didn’t open the game with a base hit for the first time in the series. His 4-for-4 performance in that stat had set a baseball postseason record.
Escobar got the Royals’ first hit Wednesday leading off the fourth, but Estrada got Ben Zobrist, who next to Escobar was swinging the most sizzling ALCS bat, to bounce into a double play.
Escobar and Zobrist entered the game with a combined 16 hits and 13 runs scored, remarkable production from the top of the order. Together, they went 1-for-8 on Wednesday.
Lorenzo Cain, who entered the game riding a team-record 13-game postseason hitting streak, extending back to the 2014 World Series, was held hitless for the first time this postseason. His first plate appearance, when Cain took a called third strike, set an ominous tone for his night. He later popped out to second, walked and hit a comebacker to the pitcher.
The best swing of the night came from one of the struggling Royals. Perez entered the series with just two hits in 15 at-bats. His eighth-inning opposite-field home run was his second of the series and fourth of this postsesason. The Royals then got singles from the bottom of the order, Alex Gordon and Alex Rios, but that was it for their production at the plate.
Estrada walked one, meaning the Royals finished the game with a mere five base runners.
“Down, down and away, down and in, he didn’t miss many pitches today,” Escobar said.
Estrada was a force for the Blue Jays this season, when he went 13-8. He led the majors in opponent’s batting average after the All-Star break at .183. The Royals nicked him for three runs in their 5-0 victory in Game 1, but Estrada rose to the occasion in this elimination game.
And with a chance to win the series, the Royals, hitting .331 in the series before Wednesday, had no solution.