KANSAS, Mo. — Baseball is a game of inches, Toronto catcher Russell Martin noted.
And the Blue Jays are learning quickly that if you give the Kansas City Royals an inch, they will take a mile.
Down 3-0 after six innings with David Price mowing down 18 straight batters, the Royal took advantage of a fielding miscue to score five runs in the seventh and chase the Toronto ace. Kansas City ending up winning 6-3 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series that resumes Monday in Toronto.
The seventh opened with a Ben Zobrist popup to shallow right field. It looked like a routine play with both outfielder Jose Bautista and second baseman Ryan Goins converging on the ball. Bautista stopped, with Goins appearing to call for the ball. Then Goins stopped, saying later he believed he had been called off.
The ball dropped onto the turf, Zobrist made it to first and the comeback was on. Five singles and a double followed.
Price, who had previously only yielded a single off his first delivery of the day, gave up five hits in 2/3 of the seventh.
The smart, hard-working Royals, who have a history of comebacks in these playoffs, did their bit to keep the scoreboard turning.
Midway through the rally, Kansas City elected to have Eric Hosmer go for second while Kendrys Morales was at the plate. Morales grounded out to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki but Hosmer, thanks to the early jump, was able to get to second.
"The key to that whole inning, believe it or not, was Hosmer stealing second base," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "That was a double-play ball. That allowed us to get to a point we could score five runs, that was huge."
The Jays may have outscored Kansas City by 167 runs in the regular season but the Royals know how to take their chances.
"I think it's a strong offence from one to nine ... There's no real dead spots," Yost said prior to the series. "And you can sustain a rally anywhere in that lineup."
The Jays have dug themselves out of a hole before, winning three straight after dropping the first two games to Texas in the American League Division Series. But they have made things difficult for themselves, with Royal ace Johnny Cueto slated to face Marcus Stroman next at the Roger Centre.
"It's not the most comfortable place to be, but we're still confident," Bautista said. "We're a great team. We're playing good baseball. Today was just one of those days where a small mistake can open the door for the other team.
"So we're not going to try and overanalyze it and just come into the next game and play good ball."
While Goins took blame for the botched Zobrist popup, Bautista seemingly had no interest in talking about it.
"There's video, you guys can watch that," he said in somewhat prickly fashion.
But he did acknowledge that the Royals made the most of the opening.
"That's the kind of team they are. You give them a little chance and they string a few hits together and score runs."
While the Jays expressed confidence in their ability to extend the series, the trip to the Midwest raises questions.
With their speed and depth down the lineup, the opportunistic Royals have proved they can manufacture runs. And if the starting pitching can go deep, their relievers are tough. The Kansas City bullpen has yet to give up a run in 6 2/3 innings, restricting Jays' hitters to four hits.
The Toronto offence, which led the majors in averaging 5.5 run a game, has been shackled. The top six of the order is nine-for-45 with two runs scored in the first two games.
Price's post-season woes continue with the big man losing his seventh straight start in a remarkable, sudden change of fortunes. While the decision to use him as a reliever in Game 4 of the ALDS with Stroman starting Game 5 can be seen as an attempt to maximize resources, it also complicates his story.
Price, a free agent after this season, has lost his two playoff starts but won out of the bullpen.
On the plus side, two Jays playing in pain made some noise with their bats Saturday. Edwin Encarnacion (finger) and Tulowitzki (shoulder) went a combined 4-for-eight and drove in two of the Toronto's three runs.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press