TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t letting themselves get fazed by a 2-0 deficit in a post-season series.
They dealt with one just last week.
Down 2-0 to Texas in the American League Division Series, the Blue Jays rallied to win the next three games of the best-of-five set and advance to the AL Championship Series. Now, after dropping the first two games of the best-of-seven ALCS in Kansas City this weekend, they’re back in that familiar hole.
Any comeback this time will have to come against a tough Royals team that finished the regular season with an American League-best 95-67 record.
But the Blue Jays are up for that challenge.
“We’ve played from behind before,” second baseman Ryan Goins said at a workout day at Rogers Centre on Sunday. “Playing from behind in a five-game series is different than playing from behind in a seven-game series. We have more life than we had last time. It’ll be fun and I think we’ll get back in this series.”
“We seem to play a lot better when we’re down 2-0, I think,” added first baseman Chris Colabello. “You just go out and play the game. Whether or not we won or lost (Game 2 on Saturday), we’re still going to go out and figure out a way to win the game.”
Game 3, scheduled for Monday night at Rogers Centre, is the first of potentially three consecutive games at the Toronto stadium where the Blue Jays enjoyed a 53-28 record during the regular season.
The familiar artificial turf, the retractable roof, and of course, the loud Toronto fan base all help give the Blue Jays a true sense of home-field advantage.
“Any time we can play at home we’re comfortable here,” said centre-fielder Kevin Pillar. “We love the support we get, we love the enthusiasm, we love how loud it is. … We’re excited. It’s always nice to be home for a couple days, sleep in your own bed, have our families in town, get back into our routine of doing things we like to do when we’re home.”
None of that will matter if the Blue Jays’ bats fail to get anything going against Kansas City ace and Game 3 starter Johnny Cueto.
Cueto, who was acquired by the Royals in a deadline trade with Cincinnati, went 4-7 with a 4.76 earned-run average through 13 regular-season starts for Kansas City. But he was dialed in for the Royals’ Game 5, ALDS-clinching win over Houston last week, giving up just two runs on two hits and striking out eight over eight solid innings.
“He’s one of the best in baseball,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “They focused on him in the trade deadline as one of their prime targets and they went out and got him for these type of games. … He’s another one of those guys that can overpower you. When he’s on, he’s awful tough.”
Toronto will counter with its own hard-throwing right-hander — 24-year-old Marcus Stroman.
Stroman, pitching in just his seventh game of the year after tearing his ACL during spring training, has come up huge for the Blue Jays already this post-season.
While he doesn’t have a victory to show for either of his two starts — including an impressive performance in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS — Stroman held the Rangers to six runs (five earned) and struck out nine Texas batters over 13 innings.
He also seems to thrive in high-pressure situations like the one he’ll head into on Monday.
“This is fun,” Stroman said, flashing a bright smile. “This is what you dream about when you’re a young kid growing up. I’m happy to be in this position. I want to be the one to have the ball in these games.
“That’s what all the preparation and all the hard work is to be able to take the ball and go out in pressure situations. And I feed off the energy of the crowd and my teammates and I’m looking forward to being out there.”
The crowd may be on Toronto’s side over the next few games, but history favours Kansas City.
Since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1985, the team that has won Game 2 of the ALCS has advanced to the World Series 23 times in 29 series (79 per cent).
But with the way the Blue Jays have played all season — leading the league in runs, home runs, total bases and slugging percentage — and with the way they flipped the ALDS around on Texas earlier this post-season, Kansas City manager Ned Yost won’t be taking any chances.
“We know that this club is capable of getting on a run and putting together two or three or four wins in a row,” Yost said. “You have to keep your guard up. You’ve got to continue to stay focused and you’ve got to be able to stay on the attack. And it doesn’t matter if you’re home or you’re on the road.”