The ALCS is set following two survive-and-advance games yesterday. The Toronto Blue Jays will face the Kansas City Royals starting tomorrow in Kansas City. The Royals’ 7-2 win, unlike their improbable comeback win Monday was lacking in drama, while the Blue Jays’ 6-3 victory over the Rangers featured as sorry a spectacle of fan behavior as I can remember since a 1978 boxing riot in New York.
The Houston Astros have nobody to blame but themselves for not making the ALCS this time around. They had the series won. They were ahead 6-2 in game 4 Monday going to the 8th inning in their home ball park, and had a 2 games to 1 lead in the series. Even after the Royals scored 7 in the last 2 innings to win, the Astros had a 19-game winner in Collin McHugh going against Johnny Cueto who had been largely ineffective since joining the Royals at the end of July. But in Kansas City last night, Cueto pitched the kind of game the Royals thought he could pitch when they traded for him. The Astros got just 2 hits in 8 innings, with Cueto collecting 8 strikeouts. He retired all 16 Astros he faced following a second inning 2-run home run by Luis Valbuena which at the time put the Astros ahead. McHughh kept the Royals quiet until the fourth, when Eric Hosmer singled home Lorenzo Cain. An inning later the home team turned things around for good. McHugh started the inning by hitting Salvador Perez with a pitch. Alex Gordon then hit a ground-rule double that bounced into the seats, putting Perez on third. So much for McHugh. Manager A. J. Hinch turned to one of his starters, Mike Fiers who had pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers in August. This wasn’t August and these weren’t the Dodgers. The first batter he saw, Alex Rios doubled home both of McHugh’s runners putting him on the hook for the loss. Ben Zobrist hit a scoring fly ball to make it 4-2. With the offense dormant, manager Hinch in desperation for a pitcher to give him a quiet 8th inning turned to his ace starter Dallas Keuchel. But he couldn’t channel his internal Randy Johnson. He gave up a double, then intentionally walked Lorenzo Cain. With two outs, Kendrys Morales unloaded a tremendous drive to dead center for a 3-run home run. Half an inning later the series belonged to the Royals. This will be their second consecutive ALCS appearance after a drought of nearly 30 years.
The Blue Jays’ game against the Rangers in Toronto was a pedestrian game early on, giving no hint of the lunacy to come later. With the visitors up 1-0 Shin-Soo Choo homered off Jays’ starter Marcus Stroman in the third making it 2-0 Rangers. In the home half, Jose Bautista whom the locals call Joe Bats doubled home Ben Revere to cut the lead in half. In the last of the sixth Edwin Encarnacion hit an absolutely mountainous home run off Rangers’ starter Cole Hamels knotting the game at 2. Then came the 7th. Next year will be 45 years since I became a baseball fan, and during a dozen of those years I broadcast close to 1500 games of minor league baseball. In the minors anything that can happen does, particularly if you last enough years. But nothing I’ve witnessed as fan or broadcaster approached yesterday’s 7th inning. Aaron Sanchez came in to relieve Jays’ starter Marcus Stroman. The first hitter Rougned Odor singled to left. After a sacrifice and an infield out he was on third. Shin-Soo Choo was up. After a ball evened the count at 2 and 2, the throw from catcher Russell Martin back to his pitcher hit Shoo’s bat. Nobody seemed to notice this but the alert runner Odor who raced home. The Rangers’ radio man Matt Hicks believed Dale Scott, who was the plate umpire had called time out. Eventuallly Hicks saw a replay showing the ball hitting Choo’s bat. He and his partner, Hall of Famer Eric Nadel both made it clear that this was a live ball and the run should count. The crowd saw the same replay and the booing began. Then umpire Scott made it clear the run would count and a ripple of boos from the Toronto fans became a tidal wave. Their infuriated manager John Gibbons came out to plead his case, which triggered a storm of bottles and cans thrown from all corners of Rogers Center onto the field. In this day of metal detectors and bag searches, I don’t know how so many bottles and cans found their way in, but once they were in they were hurled onto the turf, putting Bluejays’ players at risk. Hicks, who has been announcing all the major sports for 3 decades and has also been a basketball referee sounded as shocked as I felt listening to the debacle as it unfolded. The more the Jays’ flashed messages on the scoreboard for the crowd to stop throwing things, the more the crowd threw things-not unlike my sister’s dog Sonny who keeps getting closer to my niece the more she tells him “Go.” As amusing as that picture is, the scene at Rogers Center just wasn’t funny. A policeman was nearly hit by a thrown beer can. Another nearly missed umpire Scott. Obscene chants rang through the stadium which no doubt caused awkward moments for Dads with small kids wanting to know what the chanting was. Jays’ manager Gibbons made it known he would play the game under protest. It took 18 minutes to get the field cleared of debris and the teams back on it. At long last Choo struck out, ending the top half of the inning.
All this time, Rangers’ starter Cole Hamels had been in the dugout. He came out to start the last of the seventh and got 3 grounders. Inning over-except all 3 hitters reached on errors, two by Elvis Andrus, one by Mitch Moreland. Ben Revere grounded into fielder’s choice retiring the runner at the plate. So with one out and his team still ahead 3-2 Hamels left in favor of Sam Dyson. Josh Donaldson grounded into a fielder’s choice with the tying run scoring. Up to now the Rangers had given the Jays 3 additional outs in this inning. Two were out and two on when Jose Bautista brought what had been an angry mob to its feet roaring as he crushed a tremendous home run to dead center field, to make it 6-3 Blue Jays. The next batter Edwin Encarnacion and pitcher Dyson had words, prompting the benches to empty and the fans to throw more junk on the field. Another incident occurred after the final out of this incredible inning, although no punches were landed in either fracas.
With the ALCS teams in position, the Mets and Dodgers meet in game 5 of the NLDS, with the winner to face the Cubs at their home park on Saturday. The Mets have Jacob DeGrom in line to start. He struck out 13 Dodgers while outdueling Clayton Kershaw in game 1. The Dodgers had to use Kershaw in game 4, so Zack Greinke will face the Mets in tonight’s game. He got the win in the tumultuous game Saturday night where Chase Utley’s illegal slide resulted in a broken leg for Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada. Noah Syndergaard claims he could go in relief if needed, though he lasted into the 7th inning of Saturday’s game.