Vahe Gregorian

Down multiple runs late in the game? Never count out these resilient Royals

Blue Jays second baseman Ryan Goins (on ground) and right fielder Jose Bautista got tripped up by Ben Zobrist’s shallow fly to right on Saturday; neither made a catch that one of them should’ve made.
Blue Jays second baseman Ryan Goins (on ground) and right fielder Jose Bautista got tripped up by Ben Zobrist’s shallow fly to right on Saturday; neither made a catch that one of them should’ve made.

This was about as over as over could be, really. Fully baked, fork protruding and a curvy opera singer crooning in the background.

So for the umpteenth time this season and even this postseason, in which the Royals have trailed in the fifth inning or later in six of seven games, they’d have to summon an improbable comeback to win.

Then, ho-hum, for the fourth time this postseason (and 44th time this season overall) they concocted just that for a 6-3 win over Toronto in yet another ridiculous rally Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.

“We just never count ourselves out; we always feel like we have a chance …,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said after the Royals took a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. “You have crazy comebacks happen, (and) it’s a thing we’ve done it before, so why not do it again?”

Why not?

Well, in this case, Toronto pitcher David Price had manacled 18 straight Royals and punctuated that by striking out the side in the sixth inning.

He may or may not actually have broken a sweat considering the economy of his effort (65 pitches) and temperatures in the mid-50s.

So Game 2 was in the clutches of the Blue Jays, who led 3-0 into the seventh in a game that was on the verge of reframing the series.

Not just into a tie but tilting it to the Blue Jays’ considerable advantage given that the series now moves to Toronto for the next three.

But after 28 years of funneling any fleeting hope into futility, the Royals have been transforming the most minuscule of hopes into gold since, oh, about the time they resuscitated the franchise in the AL wild-card game against Oakland last year.

The Royals pulled off another playoff comeback win Saturday, beating the Blue Jays 6-3 by scoring five in the seventh. KC leads the ALCS 2-0 with Game 3 on Monday night in Toronto (7 on FS1).

Now, they have the 2-0 LCS lead that historically has meant winning the series for the 22 of 25 teams (AL and NL) thus staked.

Because now any given reprieve or crack of a window can be a catalyst, or at least usher them toward an escape hatch.

So it was that Ben Zobrist on Saturday cranked open the floodgates in the seventh by blooping a ball to shallow right field.

In frustration over what he’d later say was a “sure out,” he slammed down his bat.

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But he hadn’t counted on a miscommunication between right fielder Jose Bautista and second baseman Ryan Goins, who fended off Bautista before shrinking from it himself at the last instant allowing it to drop in.

“I think there’s video,” Bautista said. “You can watch it.”

As someone who has played both positions, Zobrist said, “Somebody just has to take charge and make the play. It’s tough when the crowd is that loud, and you think maybe the outfielder is calling you off. I’ve done it before, too. It’s a tough, tough break.”

And exactly what the Royals needed.

As he arrived at first, Zobrist thought, “Oh, well, there’s a break. Let’s see if we can keep it going.”

To that point, if you believe in these sorts of things, the Blue Jays seemed to be enjoying the cosmic nod of the day:

Their two-run sixth came was enabled — propelled? — by Josh Donaldson's pop-up grazing a wire in foul ground, which rendered it dead even as catcher Sal Perez made a nimble bare-handed catch.

Given new life, his single paved a mini-rally brought to fruition by two hits just out of the grasps of diving Royals Alex Rios and Alcides Escobar.

But now there was this trickle of a semblance of a sliver of an opening for the Royals, all well and good and symbolically inspiring but irrelevant in a vacuum.

“We needed more than one (hit),” Zobrist said, “and we got it.”

They exploited the moment with singles by Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas, a double by Alex Gordon and a Rios single.

Suddenly, it was 5-3 Royals, who of course had used a five-run eighth inning to come back from down 6-2 against Houston facing elimination in Game 4 of the AL Divisional Series.

“You could just feel it kind of snowball again,” Zobrist said, “and feel the momentum changing.”

The Royals, of course, didn’t win this game because of a fluke play.

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They won because they were studying and adjusting to Price even as he was setting them down.

Then they won because they pounced on the opportunity it presented, and pried it open with nuanced and smart baseball.

Faced with the urgency of the moment, the Royals worked counts with more discipline, shortened up swings and fought off more pitches.

Cain went the opposite way for his hit, as did Hosmer, who was part of another key play in the sequence as he ran in the hit-and-run with Kendrys Morales at the plate.

That averted a double play that allowed the rally to overtake Toronto instead of just tying it.

All of this was a function of knowing every cog had to produce and trusting that it would.

“Nobody was out there trying to do too much,” Zobrist said.

Not because they’re somehow enchanted.

But because they’re steeped in all this now and know what it takes to seize a moment — so why not do it again?

The Star's Andy McCullough and Blair Kerkhoff recap yet another Royals' comeback victory in the playoffs, 6-3 over Toronto on Saturday. Game 3 is Monday night in Toronto (7 on FS1)

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