Cueto goes the distance as KC takes 2-0 edge over Mets
After watching Johnny Cueto feed off the energy of the home crowd during a dominant start against Houston earlier this postseason, Royals manager Ned Yost wanted to make sure the volatile pitcher would make his World Series starts at Kauffman Stadium.
He sure looked comfortable there Wednesday night.
Cueto delivered arguably the finest performance of his career, allowing one run and two hits in a complete-game, 7-1 romp over the New York Mets in Game 2. It was the first complete game thrown by an American League pitcher in the Fall Classic since Minnesota’s Jack Morris in 1991.
"That’s what they brought me here for," Cueto said, "to help win a World Series."
He accomplished that in 122 pitches, retiring 16 of the final 17 batters he faced. The lone blemish was a ninth-inning walk, which he followed with the game’s final out to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead as the series shifts to Citi Field for Game 3 on Friday night.
"The longer the game goes, the stronger I get," said Cueto, who dedicated his performance to countryman Edinson Volquez, whose father died in the Dominican Republic before Game 1.
The only run Cueto allowed came in the fourth, when two more walks and a single by Lucas Duda gave the Mets a 1-0 lead. But Cueto shut them down the rest of the way, while the Royals pounced for four runs off previously untouchable New York starter Jacob deGrom to take the lead.
Every inning after that, the veteran with the dreadlock mop would plop his hat onto his head, bounce up the dugout steps, and carve up a Mets lineup powerless to stop him.
"You’ve got to tip your cap. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game," Mets leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson said. "That’s the reason Kansas City traded for him."
He mixed speeds. He hit corners. He kept the NL champions guessing.
"You could really tell," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said, "he was locked in those first couple innings. When he was missing spots, it wasn’t out over the plate. It was either a hair off, in or out. He was electric tonight. That’s the type of outing we needed."
One that looked nothing like he did in his last postseason start, when Cueto surrendered eight runs against Toronto in the AL Championship Series. He became the first pitcher in playoff history to allow 11 baserunners and last two or fewer innings that night.
The outing was so horrific that Toronto fans inside Rogers Centre derisively chanted Cueto’s name, hoping that Yost would leave him in the game to take more lumps.
His name was being chanted at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night, too.
But just like in the decisive Game 5 of the divisional round, when Cueto tossed eight innings of two-hit ball against the Astros — and retired the final 19 batters he faced — all those chants echoing through the big ballpark were for him. They came from fans young and old, wearing faux dreadlocks and toting homemade signs that said, "Johnny Be Good!"
Good? How about downright extraordinary.
The last AL pitcher to throw a complete game with two or fewer hits in the playoffs was Roger Clemens in 2000, and the last to do it in the World Series was Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox, who held the St. Louis Cardinals to one hit in a 5-0 victory in Game 2 on Oct. 5, 1967.
"It’s unbelievable, the way he finished," Royals catcher Salvador Perez said. "He feels more comfortable at home. People say his name, it’s like, `OK, they want me. I’m their guy.’"
It was the kind of starring role the Royals were counting on Cueto to deliver. They mortgaged much of their future to acquire him, sending three left-handers — all considered top prospects — to Cincinnati at the trading deadline, even though it amounted to a short-term rental.
Cueto is due to become a free agent, and the Royals almost certainly will be priced out of the bidding. So if he pitches again in a Kansas City uniform, it probably will mean the World Series has shifted back to Kauffman Stadium after three games in New York.
If it was up to all those Royals fans chanting his name, their lasting memory of Cueto wearing their crisp, white jersey will be a memorable one from Wednesday night.
"Tonight, he was everything we expected Johnny to be," Yost said. "He was on the attack. He kept the ball down. He changed speeds. It was just a spectacular performance by him."