Tulo, Blue Jays bust out at home in ALCS Game 3

Tulowitzki: 'I'm just battling every day' (1:16)

Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki assesses his Game 3 performance in which he had a three-run home run and was ejected after the seventh inning when he argued with plate umpire John Hirschbeck. (1:16)

TORONTO -- In the bottom of the third inning Monday night, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki took an industrial-strength cut at a 93 mph fastball from Kansas City starter Johnny Cueto and drove it high and deep to straightaway center field at Rogers Centre. The ball kept carrying until it cleared the 10-foot high blue fence to the left of the 400-foot mark, where it touched down for a three-run homer.

As Tulowitzki rounded first base and saw what had transpired, he barked an exhortation to himself. Then he turned and gestured emphatically toward the home team dugout, in a personal bonding moment with the coaches and teammates who make up his personal fan club.

Tulowitzki's fellow Blue Jays cheered, waved their arms and displayed all the telltale signs of ballplayers losing their collective minds in response to a big postseason moment. But they were also giving him a personal shoutout in recognition of what he has contributed and endured in three months in Toronto. Statistics be damned.

"I've been around him for four years now, and he's the epitome of a baseball player," said Blue Jays reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who previously played with Tulowitzki in Colorado. "Nothing he does surprises me. He's incredible."

While Tulowitzki's Game 3 homer against Texas in the Division Series was fulfilling, his three-run blast off Cueto gave him a signature moment to file away for the winter. It gave the Blue Jays a 6-2 lead, and they went on to beat the Royals 11-8 and pull within 2-1 in the teams' best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

With the exception of some shaky bullpen work, this game featured everything Toronto manager John Gibbons wants to see from his club on the big stage:

Marcus Stroman pitched into the seventh inning, despite allowing 11 hits. Center fielder Kevin Pillar and second baseman Ryan Goins flashed their usual defensive wizardry. And Josh Donaldson and Goins added home runs on top of Tulowitzki's blast for the Blue Jays, who relied on the same seat-denting formula that propelled them to a 53-28 regular season in the venue formerly known as SkyDome.

Yes, the Jays lost Games 1 and 2 in the Division Series to the Rangers at home. But more often than not, they find salvation beneath the Rogers Centre roof and before a raucous crowd, with their grip-it-and-rip-it style of offense. They led the majors with 891 runs and 232 homers during the regular season, and they can be downright intimidating once they get on a roll.

"Obviously, there's something that makes us all so comfortable with playing here," said first baseman Chris Colabello. "I said before this series, 'I think you're dealing with one of the best home-field advantages in baseball.' I know Kansas City would say that, too, and I hear a lot of stuff about St. Louis and [Wrigley Field]. But I'd put us right up there with anybody."

After watching a 3-0 lead with David Price on the mound melt into a disheartening 6-3 loss in Game 2 at Kauffman Stadium, the Blue Jays realize that no lead is comeback-proof against the relentless Royals. Toronto carried an 11-4 lead into the ninth inning on Monday and sweated things out a little too much as Kansas City hung a four-spot on Liam Hendriks and closer Roberto Osuna.

Strangely, Tulowitzki watched the final two innings unfold from the TV in the clubhouse. After taking a questionable third strike from plate umpire John Hirschbeck in the bottom of the seventh, he went out to his shortstop position and received a long-distance ejection from the veteran ump, who was stationed along the first-base line.

"I'm walking out to the field and he's looking at me," Tulowitzki said. "And I told him, 'That wasn't a strike.' And it was a quick trigger. Obviously, he was either holding onto something or something was going on. But I don't think what I did was going to eject me out of the game."

Hawkins was surprised by the incident.

"That was out of character for him, when he told me he didn't say anything. I knew it," he said. "That's not Tulo. He's all about playing the game of baseball the right way."

Best intentions notwithstanding, it has been a challenging three months for Tulowitzki since he came to Toronto from Colorado as part of a six-player deadline trade on July 28. The Blue Jays posted a 32-9 record after Tulowitzki's arrival and clearly benefited from his energy and perpetual ball-rat mentality. But Tulowitzki's numbers in Toronto were disappointing (.239/317/.380), and he spent three weeks on the disabled list with a cracked shoulder blade after a mid-September collision with Pillar at Yankee Stadium.

Tulowitzki returned in late September only to hit .095 (2 for 21) against Texas in the ALDS and continue a string of underwhelming postseason performances dating back to his playoff debut with Colorado in 2007. When Edinson Volquez attacked him with seven straight fastballs in a pivotal spot in Kansas City's 5-0 Game 1 victory, it substantiated the notion that Tulowitzki's injury is doing a number on his bat speed.

"The dude is battling his butt off for us," said Toronto infielder Cliff Pennington. "We know he's not feeling good. He's not making a big deal of it to the media or us or to anybody, really. He's keeping it to himself. But having Tulo in the middle or our lineup is a huge asset for us. Whatever percent he might be, it's worth it."

At age 31, Tulowitzki has played through enough injuries and losing seasons to learn the importance of gutting it out through good times and bad. Todd Helton, Jason Giambi and other veterans helped ingrain him with that mindset in Colorado, and he, in turn, passed those baseball lessons along to Nolan Arenado and the other young Rockies players. It didn't take his new teammates in Toronto long to buy into what he's selling.

"He's as much of a gamer and a competitor as anybody I've played with in my whole career," Colabello said. "When we were in Baltimore and we clinched the division, we spent some time in the cage one day together. He said his year hadn't gone the way he would have liked it to, but it didn't mean he wouldn't be able to do something to help us in the postseason. He's a pro, man. I love the guy to death, and I'm glad he's on our side."

The feeling is mutual. It's been a special season for baseball in Toronto. And judging from their performance in Game 3, Tulowitzki and his fellow Blue Jays have made it clear they're not ready for it to end.