TORONTO -- Well, this is not quite how they drew it up on Blue Jays Way, 22 years since the last time the maple leaf was unfurled for postseason baseball.
One game in, and here is what the Toronto Blue Jays, a popular choice to run the table this October, are facing. Their Cy Young Award candidate, pitcher David Price, so splendid in summer, remains winless as a starter when it matters most. Their MVP favorite, third baseman Josh Donaldson, took a knee to the head and is an uncertain participant Friday. And their monster masher, Jose Bautista, couldn't go the distance Thursday because of a hamstring cramp.
Waiting for them at high noon Friday (in Canada, that converts to 12:45 p.m.) is one Cole Hamels, the Texas left-hander who shares Price's elite pedigree but has set himself apart with seven postseason wins, an LCS MVP and a World Series MVP.
A 5-3 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 1, and there are roughly 36 million Canadians wondering if they should be bracing for an early frost after all.
"I'm ready for tomorrow already," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said bravely, even as Price stood in the middle of the Blue Jays' clubhouse owning up to defeat.
Such mea culpas have become an unwelcome October tradition for the left-hander, who has made six postseason starts in three different uniforms (Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Jays) and lost them all, four to the Rangers. Reputations are burnished at this time of year, not to mention potential tens of millions for a pitcher on the cusp of free agency. But for Price, the biggest stage has proven to be the place where he botches the lines he has delivered flawlessly countless times in dozens of lesser venues.
"I know it's there," he said of the unforgiving tally attached to his name: 0-6 in six postseason starts, with a 5.23 ERA, after a yield of five runs in seven innings that included home runs by Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos, not the names typically associated with the takedown of an ace. That record has left him with a line that no one wants on the back of his baseball card: Only pitcher in major league history to lose his first six postseason starts.
"Hopefully [a win] comes in my next start," he said. "I don't have an answer for you, to be honest."
When Odor, the No. 8 batter in the Rangers' order, wasn't hitting Price, Price was hitting him, twice clipping the 21-year-old second baseman with pitches, giving the Rangers a free baserunner to open an inning, both times Odor coming around to score.
"His misses looked like they were arm-side up quite a bit today," Martin said.
Price, 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA since coming to the Blue Jays from the Tigers in a trade-deadline deal, walked two batters in the first, which he attributed to a little high anxiety.
"First inning, I was just battling nerves," he said. "I'm nervous in my first spring training start, my first bullpen of the year, here. If you're not out there and not nervous for the first couple of pitches, the first couple of innings, then you're not human."
Price, who let out a huge exhale of relief when Prince Fielder hit into a double play to end the first, offered a nonhuman analogy to someone who suggested he didn't look nervous.
"Ducks look calm and collected," he said, "but beneath the water they're kicking away."
He looked like he had settled in during the second inning, when he struck out the side, Mike Napoli and Elvis Andrus on changeups that he has used with increasing frequency this season, Josh Hamilton on a breaking ball.
But it was the command of his fastball, his primary weapon, that appeared to abandon him Thursday. Price did not get a single swing-and-miss on his fastball; according to ESPN Stats & Info. That's something that has happened only once before in his career, regular season or postseason. Price threw 43 fastballs, and the Rangers swung at only 16 of them. Of the 27 fastballs they took, only nine were called for strikes.
Price had gone 11 days between starts but refused to blame the layoff.
"He didn't have his best command," Martin said. "I've seen him battle through that during the season and he can still manage. Today, they just capitalized on a couple of mistakes."
The Rangers took advantage of a Toronto miscalculation in the third, when Delino DeShields grounded an RBI single through the space vacated by Blue Jays second baseman Ryan Goins, who had broken toward second in anticipation of a possible pickoff. A hobbled Adrian Beltre then lined a two-out run-scoring single to center, then shed tears as he came out of the game with a strained back.
Then, the long balls. Chirinos launched a two-seamer over the left-field fence after Odor was hit in the fifth to make it 4-0. Odor hit a cutter over the right-field wall in the seventh.
By then, Donaldson was out of the game, having caught Odor's knee on the side of the head while breaking up a double play in the fourth. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth, and while Jays manager John Gibbons said he passed a concussion test, he acknowledged that he would require re-evaluation Friday.
"We have enough guys in our lineup to get past that," Price said of the possibility that Donaldson, who led the Jays with 41 home runs and 123 RBIs, might be unable to play. "I talked to him as soon as I came out and he said he felt a lot better at that time. The next couple of hours I'm sure will tell him a lot.
"If he's in the lineup tomorrow, that's great. If not, we still have a couple more guys who can drive the ball out of the yard."
Bautista, who made his postseason debut after 12 seasons and 1,403 regular-season games, hit a long home run in the sixth but came out in the ninth with a cramp in his right hamstring. He took treatment after the game and said he expects to be in the lineup Friday.
Price, meanwhile, was left to wonder whether he will get another chance at autumn redemption.
"Every hitter, every inning is the same," he said. "I want to get an out, then the next guy and the next guy and put up a zero. I didn't do that today. It's frustrating, yes. I hold myself in extremely high regard. I know my teammates do as well, and across the country in Canada, and I didn't throw the ball well today. I'll be ready to go my next start."