The Toronto Blue Jays led all of Major League Baseball with 891 runs scored during the regular season, which was 127 more than the closest challenger. Kansas City Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto found out why during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday night.
Toronto's offense chased Cueto after two-plus innings of work and powered the Blue Jays to an 11-8 victory that trimmed Kansas City's lead in the series to 2-1. Cueto allowed eight earned runs, six hits and four walks while recording a grand total of six outs.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports and ESPN Stats & Info put Cueto's forgettable performance in historical context:
Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Ryan Goins all homered during the offensive onslaught, and Toronto put the contest away with three runs in the second inning and nine in the third. Tulowitzki, Donaldson and Goins also drove in three runs apiece and set the tone to ensure the Blue Jays would not fall behind 3-0 in the series.
Toronto didn't need a shutdown effort from its pitching staff with all the offensive fireworks, which proved important because starter Marcus Stroman labored, and the bullpen gave up four runs in the ninth.
The Royals actually struck first with a run in the first inning. Alcides Escobar tripled on a ball Jose Bautista badly misplayed and scored on Ben Zobrist's grounder. It could have been worse for the Blue Jays, but center fielder Kevin Pillar robbed Lorenzo Cain of extra bases with a spectacular catch.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the miscue and defensive gem were par for the course:
Toronto took the lead for good in the bottom of the second when Goins drove in two with a two-out single and then scored on Donaldson's single. Goins was hitting .087 in the postseason before the hit, and Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star noted Kansas City's problem:
While the Royals made it 3-2 in the top of the third, any idea that Monday's game would be competitive ended in the bottom of the frame when Cueto melted down, surrendering three hits and two walks without retiring one batter. Tulowitzki delivered the big blow with a three-run homer, and Pillar chased Cueto with a run-scoring double. Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet and Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star pointed to the same thing:
Later in the inning, Donaldson drilled a two-run homer. While his long ball came off Kris Medlen, Passan highlighted Cueto's terrible finish:
Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star pointed out the Rogers Centre crowd was not done with Cueto even after the Royals had mercifully removed him from the game:
Lost in the offensive explosion by the Blue Jays was the fact that Stroman was far from his best. The 24-year-old allowed two more runs in the top of the fifth, and Zwelling noted his timing:
After Kansas City scratched out two runs in the top of the fifth, Goins drilled a solo homer in the bottom half to push Toronto's lead to 10-4. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reported the Blue Jays made history with the insurance run:
Stroman's night ended after 6.1 innings. He allowed four earned runs, 11 hits and a walk while only striking out a single hitter. He was far from the dominant force Toronto fans saw in four September starts, and Jesse Spector of Sporting News commented on the right-hander's outing:
With the game well in hand, Tulowitzki was ejected before the top of the eighth after he was called out on strikes leading off the bottom of the seventh. Kennedy described the action, and Fox Sports pointed out how long it had been since someone was thrown out in the American League playoffs:
The Blue Jays tacked on another run in the eighth via a Bautista single to make it 11-4, which proved more important than expected as the Royals rallied in the ninth. After Cain delivered a sacrifice fly and Eric Hosmer singled home a run, Kendrys Morales greeted closer Roberto Osuna with a two-run homer to cut the lead to 11-8. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post noted why it wasn't an inconsequential rally:
But Osuna retired the next two batters to secure Toronto's first victory in the series.
Game 4 is set for 4:07 p.m. ET Tuesday and will feature starters R.A. Dickey for the Blue Jays and Kansas City's Chris Young.
The knuckleballer Dickey allowed a single earned run in his divisional series start against the Texas Rangers, although he only pitched 4.2 innings. He faced the Royals once this season and picked up the victory in one of his best performances of the year. He didn't allow a run in seven innings of work and gave up a meager two hits and two walks while striking out six.
Young came out of the bullpen in Game 1 of a divisional series against the Houston Astros and struck out seven in four innings. He allowed three hits, including a solo home run, and two walks, and while the Royals lost that contest, Young kept them within striking distance after a lackluster start by Yordano Ventura.
Young faced Toronto once this season and took the loss after giving up three earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in six innings of work.
Given the way the Blue Jays mashed the ball Monday, the Royals would probably take three runs in six innings from Young in Game 4.
Toronto manager John Gibbons highlighted how important it was for his offense to have such a big break through, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com): "That's really what we're all about. We desperately needed that breakout."
Gibbons also recognized Goins' performance: "He's been carrying that load around a little bit. But he stepped up, really got us on the board with that great at-bat, picking up those two runs, base hit to left and then, of course, the home run."
Kansas City manager Ned Yost noted Cueto's main issue, per Gregor Chisholm and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com: "He couldn't command the ball down. He was up all night long. Just really struggled with his command. Got his pitch count up and just couldn't make an adjustment."
Cueto pointed to something else when talking about his performance: "The mound in the bullpen was higher than the real one. And I couldn't get my pitches down. It's no excuse. They just beat me."
At least the Royals could take solace in their late flurry. Eric Hosmer praised his teammates for their effort: "It shows you that we never quit. But it was just too big a hole. We know our pitchers won't have another game like that, so we're fine. It's 2-1, and we'll come back tomorrow."
If Kansas City does come back tomorrow, it will be one victory away from its second consecutive trip to the World Series.