(Reuters) - The Kansas City Royals nullified the strongest batting line-up in the majors and let their own sluggers do the talking as they romped to a 5-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series opener on Friday.
Catcher Salvador Perez belted a solo home run and four pitchers combined to outfox the potent Blue Jays batters in front of a delighted Kauffman Stadium crowd as the home team drew first blood in the best-of-seven series.
Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez pitched six strong innings, relying primarily on a two-seam fastball to strike out five, while giving up two hits and four walks in 111 pitches before handing over to the bullpen to close it out.
Dominican Republic native Volquez earned his first postseason win, after entering the game 0-3.
The Blue Jays were by far the best offensive team in the majors in the regular season, averaging more than five runs per game and were shut out just five times in 162 contests.
However, they were unable to counter some excellent Kansas City pitching on Friday, with nobody managing more than one hit.
“My fastball was good, outside part of the plate,” Volquez said in an on-field interview.
“I changed my game plan against them. Last time I faced them I threw a lot of pitches inside and tonight I was able to command my fastball down and away.”
Volquez was described as “superb” by Kansas City manager Ned Yost.
“He had everything going, great fastball... on the attack from the first inning on.”
Not that Yost was comfortable with an early three-run lead after four innings, which the Royals padded with two more in the eighth.
“Even though you have a two or three-run cushion, that club has the ability to put two or three runs up on the board in a heartbeat, so you’re never comfortable,” he said.
Lead-off batter Alcides Escobar (2-for-3 with one RBI) set the tone for the Royals by smacking a double off the first pitch he faced from Toronto starter Marco Estrada, who took the loss despite a solid 5 1/3 innings.
Toronto manager John Gibbons refused to blame the Mexican pitcher, instead lamenting an off night by his offense.
“He (Estrada) knows how to survive and he kept us in the game but we just got shut out,” Gibbons said.
The victory did not come without a potential cost for the Royals, however, as Perez suffered an injured left middle finger when he was struck by Josh Donaldson’s bat on the Toronto third baseman’s follow through in the eighth inning.
Perez opted to remain behind the plate but will be assessed ahead of Game Two in Kansas City on Saturday
The Royals are seeking a quick return to the World Series after losing to the San Francisco Giants in seven games last season.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien