TORONTO — The renowned politeness of the Canadian populace yielded Monday night at Rogers Centre to cold-blooded delight in another man’s misery. They have waited 22 years here for the American League Championship Series to return, and so as the Toronto Blue Jays crossed the border close to the brink, desperation trumped nicety. It wasn’t enough for their ferocious lineup, fortified by the familiar and cozy dimensions, to strip the Kansas City Royals’ ace and sell him for parts. The towel-waving, Labatt-swilling fans kicked Johnny Cueto while he was down.
The chant came after Cueto had been banished from the mound, after most of the important parts of the Blue Jays’ 11-8 victory in Game 3 had transpired. “We want Cue-to!” the crowd bellowed. “We want Cue-to!” Welcome to Canada. Kick rocks, eh?
The crowd never got Cueto after his departure, after the Jays battered him so badly that Cueto could only toss his gum and laugh at the braying crowd above the Royals’ dugout as he walked off the field for the final time. He faced 17 batters, allowed 11 men to reach base and yielded eight runs, three of them on Troy Tulowitzki’s three-run blast over the center field fence with no outs in the third inning. His collapse became more painful when the Royals’ four-run rally in the ninth inning meant only cosmetic change.
“That’s just part of his DNA,” Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol said, translating for Cueto. “That’s what comes out. But there wasn’t any laughing about it.”
What those Blue Jays fans have, for sure, is a series. A loss would have pushed Toronto one loss from winter. A victory helped the Blue Jays shed the nightmare of Game 2 and nudged them one victory away from tying the ALCS. Toronto officials believe their hitters can “get” Kansas City Game 4 starter Chris Young, a pitcher who relies on a deceptive high fastball, which could spell doom in homer-happy Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays will hand the ball Tuesday afternoon to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the style of pitcher who can send an entire lineup a slump.
The Blue Jays torched Cueto after a scoreless first inning, sending 13 more hitters to the plate and recording just three outs against him. Every hitter in Toronto’s lineup reached base, which is saying something considering he lasted two-plus innings. But the hit that broke the dam came from the player who most needed it.
The game finds players at the strangest times, and in the second inning it found Ryan Goins. In Game 2, Goins broke up David Price’s string of 18 consecutive batters retired when he called off right fielder Jose Bautista on a popup and then backed away, letting the ball plop to the turf. The Royals awoke, the game spiraled and a 3-0 lead became a gutting loss.
“Nobody felt worse than me,” Goins said.
Between Sunday and Tuesday, teammates and friends consoled Goins. On the plane from Kansas City, Bautista told him, “I got your back.” Other teammates insisted the loss was not his fault. “My grandma told me she loved me,” Goins said, “so that was good.” When he arrived at Rogers Centre, the gaffe was the last thing on his mind.
Goins’s first at-bat of Game 3 came with runners on the corners and two outs, the Blue Jays trailing 1-0 and in need of a crucial hit. Goins promptly fell behind Cueto 0-2.
Goins knuckled down. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, the count 3-2, Cueto twirled a backdoor slider — one of only six sliders he threw all night. Goins was not fooled. He poked it into left field. Kevin Pillar raced home and beat Alex Gordon’s strong throw with a nifty slide, putting the Blue Jays ahead 2-1.
“He’s one of the best right-handed starters in the game,” Toronto’s Josh Donaldson said. “There were a few times I saw him out there, it looked like he was trying to feel for his release point a few points. I know we really grinded at-bats out.”
The crowd chanted, “Cue-to! Cue-to!”He seemed to fold. He walked Ben Revere — a speedster who’s walked in 4.4 percent of his career plate appearances — on five pitches. Walking Revere to pitch to the presumptive AL MVP is no way to go through life. Donaldson slapped an RBI single to left. Cueto walked off the mound holding his hat in his hand, screaming toward the direction of the roof.
The crowd fixed its crosshairs on Cueto from the start. They booed him during introductions as he warmed up in center field, and Cueto doffed his cap to every corner of Rogers Centre. He had reason for brashness. In Game 5 of the division series, Cueto pitched the Royals into the ALCS with eight bravura innings.
He should have treaded with more caution at Rogers Centre, a cauldron for opposing pitchers. The Jays went 22-8 at home during the final two months of the regular season. Their powerful is built for the place, much like Kansas City’s contact hitting and elite defense is built for Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s a lot different,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “This place got really loud.”
In the third inning, the combination of deafening noise and right-handed thunder crashed down on Cueto. All five men he faced reached base. Tulowitzki provided the crucial blow, a three-run missile to the seats in center field that made it 6-2. When Pillar laced an RBI double to center, Manager Ned Yost trudged to the mound and took the ball. Reliever Kris Medlen would later yield two homers, from Donaldson and Goins, adding to his redemptive night.
Afterward, starter Marcus Stroman spotted Goins in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. He delivered a message that, really, applied to all of them. “There you go, Go-Go!” Stroman shouted. “That’s how you bounce back!”