TORONTO — When all else failed — and, without question, all else did fail for Johnny Cueto on Monday night — there was nothing he could do, but toss his chewing gum while departing the mound. . . And leave us all with a departure far more compelling than his performance.MORE: Top photos from the ALCS | Goins goes from goat to hero Make no mistake, Cueto was awful as Kansas City’s starting pitcher in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre.He allowed eight runs in two innings. But that’s Cueto — as unpredictable as these
games are long. Next time out, who knows?“If he makes another start in this series,” Royals manager Ned Yost said about a Game 7 if there is one, “I guarantee you, he’ll be good.” Related News playoffs 2015: Best photos from Blue Jays-Royals ALCS MORE: Key moments of Game 3 | Five takeaways | Tulowitzki ejected It was a game the Blue Jays needed to win, of course, to avoid the intense stare of a 3-0 deficit. And win it they did, to the tune of 11-8. But because the Royals kept hitting, even when they were down by seven, it was a game that always seemed to be on the brink of becoming a lot less lopsided — which was eventually the case. “We made some stuff happen,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “It’s frustrating, but at the same time, it’s only one game.” The Jays quickly displayed — especially with Kevin Pillar’s catch-and-crash into the center-field wall in the first and a marvelous dirtbag slide while beating a good throw home in the second — that an extra mile of effort would define the early innings. Sometimes that effort got them into a jam — such as when Jose Bautista didn’t back off from attempting to catch Alcides Escobar’s leadoff hit to right in the first, transforming it from a single to triple in the process. But the problems Toronto’s energy created were far outnumbered by the upside it provided.MORE: Former teammates to square off in Game 4The crowd did its part, too.There were no uh-oh murmurs when the Royals led 1-0 in the second and appeared to be having no trouble getting on base against Jays starter Marcus Stroman. But this was a crowd that was going to get its money’s worth, no matter what. So at the first sign of trouble for him, if not a bit before, the Blue Jays’ fans gave Cueto a hard time — chanting his name, the crescendo climbing while the hole that the Royals’ starter dug for himself steadily got deeper.Is a player genuinely concerned if he doesn’t act as if he is? No matter what your answer might be to that question, Cueto did an excellent job of rejecting the disappointment that wanted to attach itself to him like a lamprey as he departed.Did he hang his head, in other words, as he left the mound, allowing the fans the upper hand? Not for a moment. After tossing his gum, he seemed not only to listen to the chants . . . But then he tossed his head from side to side . . .And smiled.“Just part of my DNA,” he said after the game through a translator. “But I wasn’t laughing.”It was a quirky reaction to the crowd, all the same. Actually, it was more than quirky; it was strange — coming across as a confident pitcher’s way of saying with his behavior: “Bad game, so what?”In itself, that’s a caveat for the Blue Jays. They won a game they had to win, and won it with a lot of runs. But because they trail 2-1 in the series, they didn’t exactly make the Royals tremble. “With the way we’re swinging the bats, we have to like where we’re at,” said Hosmer. “We’re still confident.”By the time of the final out, the narrowing margin was down to three runs. The Royals still have the advantage — and frankly look like a talented team doing the math: Win one game in Toronto, and the prize can be won back home in KC.That’s not the plan, of course. The Royals need to be concerned that Cueto was such a mess on the mound, but while this isn’t a team that collectively smiled with him in Game 3, it isn’t for a single second worried.And shouldn’t be. After all, it outhit the Blue Jays 15-11 in this game. But its starting pitcher was bad. Plus, the Jays played well — showing everyone how and why they’ve gotten this far. Was it enough to worry the Royals, though? Cueto’s smile, odd as it was, seemed to answer that question.Tom Gage is a Hall of Fame baseball writer, having won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award this year, the highest honor in the profession. Gage covered the Tigers for the Detroit News for 36 years (1979-2014).