TORONTO — Edinson Volquez was good as long as he lasted, which Wednesday was five innings. It was the right-hander’s misfortune that he was left in for a sixth and for that reason the Toronto Blue Jays will be travelling to Kansas City for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
The final line on Volquez looks ugly: five innings, five runs, all earned, four walks, one HBP. On inspection, however, he gave up only three hits. On even closer inspection, only one of those hits made it out of the infield: a homer to left centre field by Chris Colabello in the second inning.
Through five innings, Volquez and company were down 1-0 and as this series would show even much larger leads are flammable. And at the Rogers Centre Wednesday afternoon, he had given the Royals what they believed they needed to clinch a berth in the World Series. At that point, his line was five innings, one earned run, three hits and a walk. Any manager would take it. While not an official quality start, in the playoffs, with quick-trigger pulls and all hands available in the bullpen, it passes for a quality day at the office.
To Volquez’s grief, quality ran out when he took the mound in the sixth. Not to say that the Jays really touched him in the sixth.
It began with Ben Revere who fouled off a couple of two-strike pitches before drawing a lead-off walk. With the next pitch, Volquez missed the plate by a couple of feet and hit Josh Donaldson. Far from an ideal situation, granted, but still Royals manager Ned Yost thought that Volquez could wiggle his way out. That wasn’t at all unreasonable given his performance through to the fifth.
As Yost explained later: “I thought he still had good stuff. Eddie’s fastball had all kinds of life. We were looking for a double-play ball, quite frankly, with all the movement on it. We just didn’t get it.”
The next at bat, though, proved to be the breaker. With a full count, Jose Bautista fouled off four pitches before drawing a walk that loaded the bases. Volquez was in extremis because he believed in his heart of hearts that either the last pitch caught enough of the plate for umpire Dan Iassogna to ring up Bautista or Bautista failed to check his swing or both. The Royals in the field must have frozen because they failed to appeal the checked swing call.
Said Yost: “I thought we had a chance to on [Bautista] swinging but we couldn’t get anybody’s attention.”
So went a sort of silent Jays rally, the only real sound being Donaldson shouting “Ouch” and Yost yelling “Appeal” in vain.
The silent rally continued. Volquez got out in front of Edwin Encarnacion with a 1-2 count, but the Jays’ DH managed to work the count full and then drew a walk, giving Toronto a 2-0 lead. The silence was broken by a common Dominican epithet, shouted by Volquez because he thought what turned out to be his last pitch had caught the outside corner. Had Iassogna seen it that way, maybe the Royals wouldn’t have come undone in Game 5. Maybe.
With Colabello coming back to the plate, Yost emerged from the dugout and pulled Volquez in favor another Dominican righthander Kelvin Herrera. En route to the dugout Yost offered Iassogna a second opinion of what constituted a ball and what constituted a strike.
This, of course, had been a follow-up to the complaint that umpire John Hirschback had squeezed the strike zone on Johnny Cueto, the Kansas City starter in Game 3 Monday night. Whether Iassogna noted the grievance mattered not. The damage had already been done.
Herrera struck out Colabello but the next batter, Troy Tulowitzki lined a double to deep left center and cleared the bases. Five-zip and there went the game.
In the wake Volquez wasn’t exactly downcast. He said that he had good stuff going through five innings, that even his teammates remarked on it in the dugout before he went out to the mound in the bottom of the sixth. He had a 97 and 98 mph fastball throughout and it was still there, no drop in velocity, in the sixth. While the heat was still there, the control wasn’t. “I lost my rhythm,” he said.
Volquez said he had gone into the clubhouse and watched video of the last few batters he faced. He said he was even surer that he had struck out Bautista. “[Bautista] said he was relieved to get [the call],” Volquez said.
The pitcher had revised his opinion on the fourth ball to Encarnacion. “Just off the plate,” he said, a heavy emphasis on “just.”
Volquez had set the tone for the series as the winning pitcher in Game 1 against the Blue Jays, going six innings and giving up only two hits in a 5-0 win in Kansas City.
As for Colabello, who had one homer off him in four career at bats and a couple of walks before Game 5, Volquez struck a gracious note. “[Colabello] hit an 0-2 [pitch],” he said. “I can call him ‘my daddy.’ No, maybe not.”