TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays made their pitch for baseball history Tuesday, not that they wanted to.
Trying to preserve their best bullpen arms in the final inning of a blowout loss to Kansas City, the Blue Jays made Cliff Pennington the first primarily position player to pitch in a postseason game, sending the infielder to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning.
“The circumstances aren’t what you want,” said Pennington, who gave up two singles before retiring Ben Zobrist on a foul popup.
By the time Pennington fired his first pitch, a 90 mph strike to outfielder Paulo Orlando, Kansas City led Toronto by 10 runs. The Royals won 14-2, taking a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.
Kansas City can win the pennant and return to the World Series today, when Edinson Volquez starts against Toronto’s Marco Estrada in a Game 1 rematch.
“There’s no doubt it’s a big challenge,” manager John Gibbons said. “It’s a do-or-die game for us.”
Pennington, who hadn’t pitched since college, volunteered his services to Gibbons, allowing the Blue Jays to save closer Roberto Osuna or setup man Aaron Sanchez for Wednesday’s must-win game.
Toronto was also without its only left-hander, Aaron Loup, who had to leave during the game and return home for personal reasons. It’s the second time this postseason Loup has had to leave the team.
With so few options, Gibbons was only too happy to accept Pennington’s offer, even if the righty battled nerves in the bullpen.
“I was more nervous in the ‘pen,” Pennington said. “Once I got out there, it was just like when you’re playing. Once you actually hit the field, it gets better.”
Catcher Russell Martin said he was “impressed” with Pennington’s performance.
“He actually has good stuff,” Martin said. “He’s got a good arm, a good change-up.”
Kansas City’s offensive barrage began against Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The 2012 NL Cy Young winner allowed five runs, four earned, in 1 2-3 inning stint as the Royals pushed Toronto to the brink of elimination.
The Royals might not want to get too comfortable with their 3-1 series lead. In 1985, when Toronto and Kansas City met in the ALCS, the Royals rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series in seven games, going on to win their only championship with a seven-game triumph over St. Louis.
“Nobody expects this to be easy,” Royals right-hander Chris Young said.
Toronto rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Texas in the previous round, winning twice on the road before clinching at home. With that in mind, Martin said the Blue Jays still have plenty of belief in their chances.
“Today we got beat up pretty good but it’s just one (game),” Martin said. “I feel like there’s lot more fight left in us.”
In the division series against Texas, Dickey came within one out of earning the win in his first career playoff start. He didn’t come anywhere close to victory this time.
“It hurts a little bit worse that it was on this stage,” Dickey said of an outing that he called “a clunker.”
Gibbons removed Dickey with two outs in the fifth in Game 4 of the Division Series against Texas despite the Blue Jays holding a six-run lead. David Price came on in relief and pitched three innings for the win.
Dickey, who threw 48 pitches Tuesday, said he’d be available out of the bullpen in Game 5 if needed.
Dickey gave up a leadoff single to Alcides Escobar, then surrendered a two-run homer to Zobrist on his fourth pitch of the game.
“It was ugly today, no doubt about that,” Gibbons said.
Lorenzo Cain walked, stole second and later scored on a passed ball before a sacrifice fly by Mike Moustakas capped Kansas City’s four-run first, the biggest opening inning in LCS history.
Former Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios hit a solo homer off Dickey in the second. Three batters later, Dickey departed after issuing a two-out walk to Cain. He was replaced by Liam Hendriks.
Toronto matched the club record for most runs allowed in a postseason game. On October 20, 1993, the Blue Jays gave up 14 runs but beat Philadelphia 15-14 to win Game 4 of the World Series.
Alcides Escobar had four RBIs and Cain drove in three runs as the Royals bounced back from an 11-8 loss Monday. Kansas City led 5-2 in the seventh before breaking away.