KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A single, as defined by any other team, is a manageable and often acceptable outcome. It can be compensated for or worked around. But for the Kansas City Royals, who collect singles as eagerly as they might collect shells on the beach, those base hits that leave the hitter anchored at first base are the ones that can unspool a big inning.
On Friday night, it unraveled the Toronto Blue Jays’ season.
When the Royals’ Eric Hosmer lined a single down the right-field line in the eighth inning, Jose Bautista retrieved the ball and fired to second base, which served its purpose in keeping Hosmer at first. But the throw also allowed Lorenzo Cain, who never hesitated, to race all the way home from first with the decisive run as the Royals beat the Blue Jays, 4-3, to clinch a berth in their second consecutive World Series.
“It was a gamble,” Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said. “Unfortunately for us, it worked out for them.”
Cain’s derring-do was matched in the ninth by that of closer Wade Davis, who escaped runners at second and third and nobody out by getting a pair of strikeouts and inducing Josh Donaldson to ground out, setting off a celebration.
The Royals, who won the series, four games to two, will host the Mets in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
Cain’s charge around the bases, of a kind that has come to typify the Royals’ hustle-and-brimstone attack, electrified a sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium who had been quieted by a 45-minute rain delay and a two-run homer by Bautista that had tied the score in the top of the eighth.
As Cain, who had walked against Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, rounded second, third-base coach Mike Jirschele, who was questioned for holding Alex Gordon at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series last year, kept waving him on.
“He’s always telling me to continue to run hard into third because you never know if they’re going to bobble it or drop it,” Cain said. “I was definitely shocked when he was sending me, but I trust him to the fullest.”
As soon as Bautista made the throw to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, near second base, he realized the consequences of his decision and stared home in disbelief.
“I felt like I cut it off quick enough where if I threw to second, I would prevent him from going to second and Cain from scoring,” Bautista said. “But obviously I was wrong.”
Until then, Bautista had taken another heroic turn in another playoff game, with two homers accounting for the Blue Jays’ runs.
Bautista, who punctuated his series-clinching home run against the Texas Rangers with a defiant bat flip, was serene while observing his homers. There was little doubt about the first, a 431-foot blast off Yordani Ventura in the fourth, and the only hesitation around his game-tying drive was whether it would hook foul. It did not, tucking about 15 feet inside the foul pole.
When it did, Bautista dropped his bat and jogged around the bases.
Cain’s run, if it haunts Bautista and the Blue Jays, also bailed out Royals Manager Ned Yost.
Yost, whose unconventional moves have generated criticism from the baseball cognoscenti (and plenty of Royals fans) in the regular season but have worked seamlessly in the postseason, may rue his decision not to summon Davis earlier.
Davis had pitched just once in the series, retiring Bautista, who was the tying run, on a fly ball to end Game 2.
But after Kelvin Herrera pitched one and two-thirds scoreless innings, Yost turned to his setup man, Ryan Madson, whose inspiring return from elbow surgery has been tempered by some shaky playoff outings, to begin the eighth.
After Revere singled, Madson struck out Donaldson before Bautista homered.
Once Davis arrived, after Bautista’s home run and a walk to Edwin Encarnacion, he retired Chris Colabello on a pop-up and struck out Tulowitzki to end the inning after Encarnacion had reached second on a passed ball. But the damage had been done.
The game was then delayed by a steady downpour.
When the Royals retreated to their clubhouse, they did not stew over what had happened.
“Everybody was fired up,” Yost said. “Our club does not mind being tied late. The mind-set was, O.K., let’s go out, score a run, and we’ve got Wade for the ninth inning to close this thing out.”
The Royals’ return to the World Series has not been as smooth as last year’s trip, when their rousing wild-card win over the Oakland Athletics gave way to sweeps of the Los Angeles Angels and the Baltimore Orioles. This time, they trailed the Houston Astros by four runs in the eighth inning while facing elimination in Game 4 of a division series and could not easily shake the Blue Jays.
The Royals’ successes came when they were able to shackle Toronto’s offense, which led the major leagues in just about every offensive metric: runs, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
In the Royals’ four victories, the Blue Jays managed zero, three, two and three runs.
David Price, owner of one Cy Young Award (and perhaps another) and soon to become one of baseball’s highest-paid pitchers, had lost seven consecutive starts in the playoffs. In reference to his playoff shortcomings, which have been a potpourri of poor pitching and poor luck, he has a sign in his locker, a pet phrase one of his former teammates used to parrot: If you don’t like it, pitch better.
Price was good — just not good enough.
He allowed early solo home runs to Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas, and one more in the seventh, which was indicative of his playoff fortunes. Moustakas led off with a broken-bat single, and when the left fielder, Revere, leapt at the wall to catch Salvador Perez’s deep drive, Moustakas would have been doubled off first except that the first baseman, Colabello, could not cleanly scoop up the relay throw. One out later, Price was gone, and Aaron Sanchez gave up a run-scoring single to Alex Rios.
Whether it was Price’s last performance as a Blue Jay is uncertain. He is a free agent and said afterward that he would be open to re-signing with Toronto.
But he will not be the only one with a lot on his mind. So, too, will many other Blue Jays as they consider how their season unraveled, not with a powerful blow, but with the Royals a maddening one just the same.