Strong start: Volquez pitches Royals past Blue Jays in Game 1 of ALCS
Edinson Volquez planned to pitch the Toronto Blue Jays inside in Game 1 of their American League Championship Series, just as he did during their contentious series earlier this season.
Then, after chatting with Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, he changed his mind.
"We know they got a lot of pull hitters over there, and power hitters, and he told me, `How you feel pitching down and away?’ And I said, `I feel sexy tonight,’" Volquez recalled. "And he was like, `All right, we’re changing the plan right now. We’re pitching those guys away.’"
They never touched him all night.
Volquez combined with three relievers on a three-hitter, Perez hit a soaring home run off Toronto starter Marco Estrada, and Kansas City rolled to a 5-0 victory Friday to open the best-of-seven series.
"Tonight was the Volquez show. He was tremendous," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He shut down a good-hitting team, I know that. His ball was ducking and darting everywhere."
Volquez (1-1) ramped up his fastball to 97 mph to slice through a potent Blue Jays offense, never allowing a runner past second base over six innings. His only trouble occurred when he walked the first two batters in the sixth, but he wiggled out of it without any damage.
The Royals’ bullpen finished off the club’s eighth consecutive ALCS victory.
"There was a lot of energy," said Volquez, who had been 0-3 with an 8.76 ERA in three career postseason starts. "I don’t know. I was just making my pitches."
Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain drove in runs off Estrada (1-1), while Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales tacked on two more off LaTroy Hawkins in the eighth inning to put the game away.
The Blue Jays’ three hits were their fewest ever in a postseason game. They were shut out five times in the regular season.
As if the outcome wasn’t bad enough for them, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion left in the eighth inning to get X-rays on the middle finger of his left hand. The initial report was a strain of the ligament and Encarnacion was listed as day to day.
Encarnacion: X rays negative. Left middle finger. Ligament sprain. Day to day.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 17, 2015
"He’s been battling this thing," Gibbons said. "We’ll see how it goes."
The Royals will try to take a 2-0 series lead when they send Yordano Ventura to the mound on Saturday. Toronto will counter with former Cy Young Award winner David Price.
"Hopefully things change to our favor tomorrow," Toronto catcher Dioner Navararo said.
The teams entered the series with plenty of history.
To start with, the defending AL champs beat Toronto in the 1985 League Championship Series, then beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the Royals’ only World Series triumph. But far more recently were the tense, benches-clearing game that the teams played at Rogers Centre in August.
Volquez was right in the thick of things.
The veteran starter kept pitching the Blue Jays inside, finally hitting Josh Donaldson with a fastball. Tensions escalated as the game went on, with Toronto reliever Aaron Sanchez returning the favor by hitting Escobar to trigger the first of two benches-clearing scuffles.
Afterward, Volquez said Donaldson was "crying like a baby" over his inside approach. And to nobody’s surprise, Donaldson was booed lustily by the Kansas City crowd on Friday night.
That was the only reason for the packed house to boo, though.
After squandering a scoring chance in the first inning, the Royals jumped ahead in the third. Alex Gordon led off with a double, Escobar sent an RBI double down the right-field line, and Cain’s two-out single helped Kansas City — so accustomed to playing from behind — to a 2-0 lead.
Perez added his third homer of the postseason on the first pitch he saw in the fourth, the cheering of the throaty, flag-waving crowd reaching a crescendo as it passed over the wall.
As shaky was Estrada was, Volquez was downright stoic as he circled the mound.
He did not allow a hit until his 56th pitch, when Chris Colabello chopped a single up the middle with two outs in the fourth. It snapped a postseason hitless streak of 10 2/3 innings for the Royals, one out shy of matching the record set by the New York Yankees in 1939.
The biggest of the Blue Jays’ big bats made the quietest outs, too.
Jose Bautista went down looking in the fourth inning, while Encarnacion struck out looking in the sixth. Donaldson managed a walk off Volquez but little else, while Tulowitzki — one of the Blue Jays’ big deadline acquisitions — went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
"It is extremely important to win the opener," Hosmer said. "There’s only so many crazy comebacks you can pull off in a postseason. It was nice to get out to a lead tonight."