TORONTO — Cliff Pennington became the answer to a trivia question on Tuesday night.
Pennington faced three batters and got the final out for the Blue Jays in Toronto's 14-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. That brief appearance — just seven pitches — made him the first position player to pitch in Major League Baseball's post-season.
The reserve middle infielder was brought in by Toronto manager John Gibbons to protect the Blue Jays' beleaguered bullpen with the game well out of reach.
"Trying to save an arm down there," said Pennington after the Blue Jays fell behind Kansas City 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. "We gotta win three in a row and we need everybody healthy and fresh for tomorrow. Figured I'd try and go in there and help."
Although Pennington is the first position player to pitch in baseball's post-season, he is not the first player to pitch and play as a fielder in the playoffs. Babe Ruth pitched for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series in 1916 and 1918 before converting to an outfielder. He played in seven World Series with the New York Yankees.
Pennington had never pitched in a professional game, but played the position throughout high school and college, developing a fastball, curveball and change-up.
Even though the Blue Jays were down by 10 runs when he trotted out of the bullpen, the hometown Toronto fans chanted Pennington's name as he took the mound.
"That was cool, it felt awesome," said Pennington. "It actually wasn't too bad. I was more nervous I think in the 'pen. Once I got out there it was just like when you're playing — once you hit the field it gets better."
Toronto was without reliever Aaron Loup, who was attending to a family emergency. Brett Cecil was injured in the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. Liam Hendriks, LaTroy Hawkins, Ryan Tepera and Mark Lowe all appeared in the game after starter R.A. Dickey was pulled after 1 2/3 innings.
"All that was left was (closer Roberto) Osuna and Aaron Sanchez," said Gibbons. "You weren't going to use those guys. They'll be good for a couple of innings each tomorrow (in Game 5).
"Loup got a call and he had to head to the airport and head home. That's why he wasn't available today. We were in a bind."
It had been Pennington's idea to pitch, suggesting it to Gibbons in the eighth inning. He began warming up between the eighth and ninth and got the call after Lowe allowed a single to Kansas City's Kendrys Morales and hit Alex Gordon with a pitch.
"It was exciting but at the same time Mark Lowe's runs were out there, I was trying to get the guys out," said Pennington who dropped jaws in the Blue Jays dugout with a 91 mile-per-hour four-seam fastball as his first pitch.
Pennington gave up a single to Paulo Orlando, then Alcides Escobar hit a sharp line drive to score two more runs. He then ended the half inning by inducing a Ben Zobrist popout to catcher Russell Martin on a 90-mph fastball.
"I wasn't happy when they got hits, that's for sure."
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press