NEWS
10/24/2015 11:54 EDT | Updated 10/24/2016 01:12 EDT

Jays left to wonder what might have been after loss to Royals ends season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Blue Jays collected 98 wins over the regular season and playoffs, a marvellous run that helped pump up a franchise across Canada.

But Toronto's failure to record win No. 99, in Game 6 of the American League Championship series against Kansas City, will rankle for a while.

Veteran slugger Jose Bautista, whose playoff heroics add to his place in team lore, acknowledged as much after the gut-wrenching 4-3 loss to the Royals on Friday that signalled an end to the season.

Is he looking forward to most of the team being back next season, he was asked.

"Excited but I haven't thought about that yet," said Bautista. "Still kind of (a) sour taste in your mouth being so close and having so many opportunities like we did today and not being able to come out with a series win.

"We could have played much better baseball, not only tonight but in the other games that we lost also."

Toronto was 4-for-41 with runners in scoring position in the four losses to the Royals. In Games 1 and 6, the Jays were 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position.

Toronto led the majors in run-scoring with 891 during the regular season, outscoring the Royals by 167 runs. In the ALCS, Kansas City won the run battle 38-26.

The free-swinging Jays were No. 1 in the majors with 232 home runs while the Royals were No. 24 with 139. Over the six games of the series, Kansas City outhomered the Jays 7-6.

"Every once in a while you've got to give credit to the other side," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, classy in defeat. "They got to this round like us because they have great pitching. When they turn over the bullpen, you saw what you saw tonight.

"And it's not always what you don't do, sometimes it's what the other guys are doing. They held us in check. We do score runs, that's how we win. But they really held us in check a few of these games, and that makes a huge difference."

Six games — 20 hours and four minutes of ALCS play — can serve as a baseball microscope.

The Royals ultimately won with timely hitting from a deep, diverse offence and a better bullpen. The Jays, after surviving four must-win games in the ALDS against Texas and the ALCS, ran out of playoff lives.

After Royals starter Yordano Ventura faltered Friday, reliever Kelvin Herrera cleaned up the sixth inning, striking out Chris Colabello with a 100 m.p.h. fastball and got Troy Tulowitzki to fly out.

Closer Wade Davis was imperious, riding out a 45-minute rain delay midway through the eighth to get the final five outs at the expense of one hit.

It was a nail-biting ending. Bautista's second homer of the game tied the score at 3-3 in the top of the eighth. After the rain, the Royals scored a run to go ahead in their half of the inning.

The ninth was pure drama. 

Russell Martin singled off Davis to open the inning. Dalton Pompey came on as a pinch-runner and promptly stole second and then third.

Kevin Pillar worked an eight-pitch walk and stole second, removing the double play opportunity as pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro struck out. Davis then struck out Ben Revere, leaving MVP candidate Josh Donaldson as the Jays' final out and Bautista on deck.

Donaldson, 0-for-5 on the night, grounded out to third in a tense at-bat to end the evening, leaving men on second and third.

While Davis slammed the door on the Jays, the winning run was an advertisement for the Royals' hustle and preparation.

Toronto closer Roberto Osuna opened the home half of the eighth by walking Lorenzo Cain, who came home on Eric Hosmer's ensuing single to right field for a 4-3 lead.

Bautista fired the ball back to second, looking to hold Hosmer. Cain kept running round third as coach Mike Jirschele sent him home.

"He did his homework," Yost said admiringly of his third base coach. "And that was a huge send right there.

"It worked because Hoz made a big turn coming around first base. It worked because Lorenzo Cain never slowed down. He didn't just take for granted that he was going to third base. And Jirschele knew that in those situations Bautista comes up and fires to second base, and he was waving him all along.

"It was a huge send by Jirsch. It worked because Hoz ran the bases hard and because Cain ran the bases hard."

Bautista said if he had thrown the ball home it might have meant men on second and third with no outs. But he clearly wished he had a mulligan.

"It's one of those tough ones. Now I wish I would have thrown the ball home, obviously. But God knows what would happened if I would have done that anyways."

It was a heartbreaking ending to an exciting rollercoaster season.

Bolstered by GM Alex Anthopoulos' moves at the trade deadline, the Jays had a dream second half of the campaign.

The acquisition of David Price, Tulowitzki, Revere, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins added both star power and important role players to a lineup that had already been bolstered in the off-season with the signing of Martin and Donaldson.

Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson combined for 120 homers, heading up an exciting lineup that scored 10-plus runs in a club-record 26 games.

Toronto led the majors with a 48-23 record after all-star break, leading the American League in runs (405), home runs (117) and earned-run average (3.33) among other categories.

Remarkably, Toronto was 50-51 three days before the July 31 trade deadline — in fourth place in the AL East, eight games back.

As the team rose up the standings, so did attendance. The Jays had 27 sellouts this season including 20 of their last 21 games.

First order of business is the future of Anthopoulos, whose contract is expiring.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press