TORONTO – The emotion of it all is what really gets you. Yes, there’s the pageantry, all the accompanying pomp and circumstance inherent to the post-season that amplifies the spectacle, but there’s a primal rawness to the competition that makes what happens on the field so compelling.
That’s why you have Adrian Beltre wiping away tears after his lower back tightened up and forced him out of the game in the third inning. That’s why you have a crowd of 49,834 collectively holding its breath with Josh Donaldson laid out after taking a knee to the head breaking up a double play in the fourth inning, erupting with an M-V-P chant once he popped back up, and then gasping when Ezequiel Carrera hit for him the next inning. That’s why a pall fell over the place when Dalton Pompey took Jose Bautista’s spot in right field in the ninth inning when the all-star left with mild right hamstring tightness.
Everything matters so damn much.
All of which is why Thursday afternoon’s 5-3 loss to the Texas Rangers made for a harsh reintroduction to playoff baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays, who got an un-ace-like performance from ace left-hander David Price, once again struggled against Yovani Gallardo and find themselves needing a big pick-me-up from Marcus Stroman in Game 2 Friday afternoon.
Cole Hamels goes for the AL West champions, looking to give his team a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series heading home to Arlington for Games 3 and, if necessary, 4, so the hosts will certainly have their hands full. The Blue Jays could at least breathe easier knowing Bautista will be ready to go while Donaldson cleared all concussion testing and will be re-evaluated Friday.
Another harsh reality of playoff baseball, especially in the division series era, is that things can get settled real quick.
Price hadn’t pitched since Sept. 26, when he worked five innings, allowing five runs, four earned, in a 10-8 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Once the Blue Jays clinched the American League East last week in Baltimore, he decided to shut it down until the playoffs, since the games were of minimal importance.
Over and over the left-hander insisted the 11-day layoff between outings wouldn’t be a factor – he’s the first pitcher to sit 11 or more days before taking the ball in Game 1 of his team’s post-season opener since Red Ruffing in 1939 – but certainly that decision will be second-guessed now, whether it factored or not.
Rougned Odor, in particular, was a thorn in Price’s side, getting hit to open the third, moving to second on Robinson Chirinos’ groundout and scoring on a Delino DeShields single past Ryan Goins, who charged to second base on an apparent pickoff play. DeShields moved to second on a hit-and-run groundout by Shin-Soo Choo and scored on an RBI single by Beltre, who barely made it to first base and left the game once the inning was over.
Broadcast cameras caught him wiping away tears during a conference with manager Jeff Banister and the training staff.
The Blue Jays clawed back within one in the bottom of the fourth on Edwin Encarnacion’s infield RBI single, but the rally proved costly as Donaldson was dazed a batter earlier when he slid into a leaping Odor’s knee at second, similar to the play Justin Morneau suffered a concussion on sliding into John McDonald’s knee back in 2010.
Donaldson laid on the ground for a moment, spiking pulses at the dome, but then got up and ran off the field. He played the top of the fifth, when Price again hit Odor to open the frame before Chirinos took him deep to open up a 4-1 lead, but Carrera hit in Donaldson’s spot in the bottom half, grounding out to second with Kevin Pillar, who ripped an RBI double earlier in the inning, standing at third base.
Bautista opened the sixth with a solo shot that again made it a one-run game, but Price failed to deliver a shutdown inning, Odor tagging him for a solo shot just over the wall in left field.
The Blue Jays managed to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth after an Edwin Encarnacion leadoff single, by Sam Dyson, a Blue Jays fourth-round draft pick in 2010, recovered to lock down the inning and seal the Rangers victory.