TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are down 3-1 to the Royals in the American League Championship Series. Their starting pitching has a 7.20 ERA in the series. Their bullpen struggled so much at the end of Tuesday’s Game 4 that Toronto used infielder Cliff Pennington to record the final out in the ninth inning. Yes, Cliff Pennington!
And of course, the 14-2 loss to Kansas City left the Blue Jays just loss away from elimination.
No, it doesn’t look good. But there is hope.
“We’re going to stay positive. Thirty years ago, the roles were reversed. The Royals were down 3-1 to the Blue Jays,” R.A. Dickey said. “We’ve been here before and we won three games in a row.”
Dickey is correct. There is precedent for such a comeback. The Royals were in the exact same position in the 1985 ALCS against the Blue Jays and rallied to win. They lost the first two games on the road, won Game 3 at home, lost Game 4, and then won the final three games, the last two of which were on the road.
So all the Blue Jays need to do is the exact same thing. True, they don’t have George Brett on their team, but they do have Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista and David Price, and they also finished off a similar comeback last week by winning the final three games of their best-of-five division series against Texas.
But to do it this time? The Blue Jays will have to pitch much, much better than they did Tuesday -- and really, better than they have pitched all postseason. And they will have to hit much, much better -- even with their big Game 3, the Jays are batting just .233 in this series.
Dickey dug the Blue Jays into a hole enormous enough to swallow the CN Tower when he allowed a home run, two singles and a walk before he recorded his first out. The knuckleballer gave up another home run and hit a batter in the second inning, and left trailing 5-0 after getting only five outs.
The Blue Jays mounted a small comeback by scoring twice in the third inning off Chris Young, but could not manage another run the remaining six innings.
“The Royals did a good job of arresting the momentum,” Dickey said, “whereas my first inning I had trouble arresting the damage. That just put us in a hole.”
Liam Hendriks pitched 4⅓ scoreless innings in relief, but the rest of the bullpen was so bad manager John Gibbons went with Pennington in the ninth to rest his remaining relievers for Game 5. Pennington thus became the first exclusively position player to pitch in a postseason game. It’s not the way you want to finish, but at least his entrance got the fans cheering after they had been booing.
“They were giving me cheers before I even left the pen,” Pennington said. “They definitely helped me out.”
The Royals hammered the Toronto pitchers so hard that Kevin Pillar probably ran a half-marathon chasing balls down in center (including four sacrifice flies). And the Blue Jays, who slammed three home runs Monday, managed just one extra-base hit Tuesday (a Donaldson double).
This is baseball, though, a game where you forget a loss one day and go out and try to win the next. Twelve teams have come back from 3-1 deficits in a best-of-seven series, including the 2012 Giants, the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox and the 2003 Marlins, all of whom went on to win the World Series. Sure, it is difficult -- 85 percent of teams down 3-1 wind up losing -- but it isn’t impossible.
In Wednesday's Game 5, the Blue Jays will start right-hander Marco Estrada, who held opponents to the lowest batting average in the American League this season. They also are playing at home. And, well, they probably won’t be using Pennington in relief.
“There’s no doubt it’s a big challenge,” Gibbons said. “It’s a do-or-die game for us. But they did it all year. I think these guys will let this one go and they’ll show up to play tomorrow. The key is to get a good outing of Marco and we’ll see where that takes us.”