TORONTO (AP) — Hip-hop music blared over the loudspeakers in an eerily empty, moodily lit Rogers Centre as Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays went through an easy workout on an off-day in the American League Championship Series.
With their backs against the wall again, there’s no place they’d rather be.
“We’re down 2-0 right now, we’ve got three games at home. These guys here, they’re comfortable and we’ve definitely got the crowd behind us,” outfielder Ben Revere said Sunday. “We definitely feel much more comfortable being back at home.”
After Kansas City took the first two games at home, Game 3 is in Toronto to night. First pitch is set for 5:07 p.m. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman faces Kansas City’s Johnny Cueto in a matchup of two Division Series Game 5 starters.
“This series is not over, not even close,” defending AL champion Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said after testing the bounce of the turf and the glare of the light in the closed-roofed stadium.
The Blue Jays advanced to the ALCS with a win that featured one of the most bizarre innings in postseason history. Bautista capped that seventh inning with a monster home run — and equally big bat toss.
That was the last long ball the top slugging team in baseball this year has hit.
Toronto relied heavily on the home run as it overcame the New York Yankees to win the East and it connected for 123 of its 232 homers this year at home. It then slugged its way to three straight wins over Texas after losing the first two at home in the ALDS.
In the chilly air of Kansas City, the Blue Jays scored just three runs and went deep none.
Now, they are more than ready to play in front of another raucous crowd that has filled their ballpark — and got rowdy in the deciding Game 5 against Texas. So much so, security should be beefed up for the ALCS.
No more deep alleys of Kauffman Stadium where their drives died. No more unfriendly fans who played tricks with Ryan Goins on the flyball that changed the tenor of Game 2, setting off a five-run rally that led to a 6-3 come-from-behind win for the Royals.
“Kansas City’s park is really big,” Revere said. “Some of the balls we were hitting there, they were going nowhere. Now we’re back home, some of those balls that were crushed are going to go over the heads or go in the gaps more.”
Of course, the Blue Jays will have to figure out a way to beat Cueto and his multitude of pitches. The Royals dreadlocked, trade-deadline acquisition from the Cincinnati Reds has found his dominant form after struggling in late summer. He gave up two runs in eight innings against Houston in Game 5 of the Division Series.
“He’s just a guy that is constantly trying to change your timing at the plate, whether it’s with his quick pitch or his shimmy on the mound and he’s got six pitches,” Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said.” But ultimately you’ve got to throw the ball over the plate and that’s what we’re trying to do is hit his mistakes.”
Cueto has had good success against Blue Jays players. He’s only allowed two homers in career 88 plate appearances, with Troy Tulowitzki, with Colorado, and Edwin Encarnacion going deep.
“I’m going to toe the rubber and give everything I’ve got and I’m going to take the same approach as I did the previous game and just be ready to go, ready to pitch,” he said through a translator.
The Royals should have their hands full, too, with Stroman, the 24-year-old right-hander who made a speedy return from a torn left knee ligament in March and excelled down the stretch. He was 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts — he didn’t return until after the testy series at end of July into August between the teams.
Stroman got that Game 5 start against Texas and now Toronto turns to him to help get them back in a series in which the odds are stacked against them: All but three of the previous 25 teams to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven era have won the series.
“He’s got the ‘it’ factor,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to go out and dominate (Monday), but you have a great feeling every time he takes the mound because he can pull of something special.”