A black Vanderbilt T-shirt lay atop an open duffel bag on the floor of the Blue Jays’ clubhouse late Wednesday evening, a piece of luggage packed and ready for a flight to Kansas City after Toronto’s 7-1 victory over the Royals in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
The duffel bag belonged to Blue Jays ace David Price, the T-shirt an ode to his alma mater, a reminder that this series is not over. Price did not pitch in Game 5, but his presence was still palpable. In the top of the seventh, with Toronto guarding a 5-0 lead, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons called to the bullpen and had Price begin warming up in the left-field bullpen inside Rogers Centre.
As starting pitcher Marco Estrada worked against the top of the Royals’ lineup, Price, the Blue Jays’ expected starter in Game 6, began to warm up. In the moment, it felt as if Gibbons were priming a howitzer when a bayonet might do the job. The Blue Jays led by five, and if Price were forced into action Wednesday, his status for Game 6 on Friday could have been thrown into question.
“I knew when I was going in (while) in the bullpen,” Price said. “Things kind of changed.”
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Gibbons said he wanted Price to get hot for a possible duel with Eric Hosmer, who was due up fourth in the inning. Instead, Estrada retired Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist, and when Lorenzo Cain drew a two-out walk, Gibbons elected to stay with Estrada, keeping Price in the pen.
“He wasn’t far off” from coming in, Gibbons said of Price, who now remains poised to start against the Royals in Game 6 on Friday.
As Price stood by his locker in the moments after the victory, he said his work in the bullpen would not hinder his performance or stamina Friday. He did not count his pitches, he said, but it had been four days since he threw 6 2/3 innings in Game 2, a 6-3 Royals victory. Under his normal four-day routine, Price said Wednesday would not have been a throwing day. But he will now have the benefit of an off-day Thursday.
“I was just ready,” Price said.
This was not the first time this postseason that Price warmed up in the bullpen with a sizable lead. In Game 4 of the American League Division Series, Price entered in the fifth inning with the Blue Jays leading the Rangers 7-1. His 50-pitch outing ruled him out for Game 5, which the Blue Jays won with Marcus Stroman on the mound.
This time, the Royals could not force Gibbons’ hand.
“That really worked out perfectly,” Gibbons said, “the fact that we didn’t need David tonight so he could throw Friday.”
Now Price will take the ball once more, attempting to save the Blue Jays in another elimination game, trying to pick up his first career postseason win as a starter after seven straight losses.
“I feel good,” Price said. “I feel good, I’m ready to go.”