All week long Toronto manager John Gibbons was peppered with questions about the wisdom of providing David Price with what amounted to a mini-vacation as the Blue Jays headed into their long-awaited postseason adventure.
Not to worry, both Gibbons and Price insisted, the 11-day layoff between starts would do the team ace good after a long and strenuous season.
Well, the Price was not right, team stars Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista both left the game with injury concerns, and the Blue Jays find themselves in a heap of trouble following their first playoff game in more than two decades.
In front of a pent-up, crammed-to-the-rafters crowd of close to 50,000 at Rogers Centre on Thursday afternoon, the Texas Rangers crashed the party with a 5-3 victory in the opening game of their American League Division Series.
Since the best-of-five divisional format first started in 1995, the team that has won the first game has gone on to win 58 of the 80 series, a 72.5-per-cent success rate.
So the Blue Jays have their work cut out for them.
"Every game's vital really," Gibbons said after the setback. "You've got to win three out of five. The thing we've got going for us is I think we've been resilient all year."
Nothing, it seemed, went right for the Blue Jays, and the bad news started with Price, who has been a marvel since the team acquired his talents at the end of July in a trade-deadline deal with Detroit.
Price went 9-1 after joining Toronto and was skipped in his final start of the regular season last week in Baltimore. The Blue Jays had just clinched top spot in the AL East and it was felt Price would benefit from the downtime heading into the playoffs.
But it has been a different story for Price in the playoffs, with a 1-5 career mark heading in – now 1-6 after being knocked around for five runs off five hits in just seven innings of uneven work.
"It's been about seven years [since his last playoff win] and I want that monkey off my back," Price said.
The victory was picked up by Yovani Gallardo, the Texas starter who improved to 3-0 against Toronto this season. He allowed two Toronto runs off four hits in five innings.
Price, whose pinpoint control is his calling card, hit Rougned Odor twice in the game and the second baseman came around to score each time.
The tall lefty also surrendered two home runs, including a two-run shot to Robinson Chirinos, the Rangers' No. 9 hitter, which moved Texas in front 4-1 in the fifth inning and proved to be the winning blast.
Price also gave up a solo home run shot to Odor in the seventh after a Bautista home run in the bottom of the sixth had pulled the Blue Jays to within one.
The layoff, Price insisted, had nothing to do with his struggles.
"I felt good," Price said. "I felt really good, just didn't make pitches in the big spots when I needed to."
The problem, Price noted, is when Toronto scored in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to draw closer, he allowed Texas to respond right back in the fifth and seventh.
"You need those shutdown innings at this time of year," he said.
Texas scored twice in the third inning for a 2-0 lead but it came at a cost. Adrian Beltre, the Rangers' fine third baseman, who drove in the first run, left the game after that with lower back spasms.
Toronto got one back in the fourth with Edwin Encarnacion driving in Ben Revere from third base, which cut the Texas lead to one and revived the relatively muted crowd.
It was a costly inning for Toronto as most-valuable-player candidate Jose Donaldson took a nasty-looking knee to the head from Odor, the Texas second baseman, breaking up a double play.
Donaldson stayed on the ground for a few moments, got up and left the field on his own accord. He came out to play third base in the top of fifth but was taken out of the game after that.
The Blue Jays said Donaldson was taken out for "precautionary measures and that he cleared concussion tests and will be re-evaluated before Friday's game.
Donaldson was not made available by the club to speak with reporters afterward, but teammate Kevin Pillar said the third basemen appeared okay when he spoke to him.
"I think he ended up with a little welt on his head for breaking up that double play," Pillar said. "But he seemed fine."
Bautista stroked a home run in the sixth that cut the lead, at least momentarily, to 4-3.
Batting in the eighth, Bautista said he felt a cramp in his right hamstring after popping out and pulled himself from right field for the top of the ninth.
Bautista afterward said the leg feels fine and he will be ready to go Friday.
"They pitched well," Bautista said. "They made some good pitches when we had runners on. That's what you've got to do to win."