Nine innings, two hits, one run: Johnny Cueto, ladies and gentlemen.
The debate over whether Cueto was an ‘ace’ or not has long since waned, smothered by a slew of bad starts in August and September, but as he was in Game Five of the ALDS, Johnny Cueto was an ace last night. He became just the fifth pitcher to throw a complete in the World Series this century and the first American League pitcher to do it since Jack Morris threw ten shutout innings to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
How many pitchers have allowed two hits or less in a complete World Series game? Sixteen, counting Cueto…..in the history of the game. Greg Maddux was the last to do it before last night and that was twenty years ago.
The performance becomes even more impressive when you note that the only two hits – both by Lucas Duda – were an infield single and a bloop single: both against the shift. The run scored after the Royals narrowly missed turning an inning ending double play. Of course, you never know what happens if Cueto gets out of his own self-created jam in the fourth inning, but he was incredibly close to being even more brilliant than he ended up being.
Cueto had it all working last night, throwing 70 of his 122 pitches for strikes and facing just 31 batters. He threw more than 16 pitches just once in an inning – that odd fourth. Here, you try hitting this:
Or even figuring out when to attempt to hit (the Mets took 21 strikes looking last night).
There is a chance that last night was Cueto’s last as a Royal. If so, he ended up doing pretty much what Dayton Moore acquired him to do: win big games. The road to get to the final out of last night was rocky, but Johnny Cueto was brilliant in the deciding Game Five against Houston and brilliant once more last night to give his team a 2-0 lead in its quest to win a second World Series. John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed have a lot of work to do to make folks lament giving them up for two months and a post-season worth of Cueto.
Along the way last night, the Royals plated seven runs: four against Jacob deGrom who was nationally assumed to be poised to shut the Royals down. They did so with Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain going a combined 0-9. If Yoenis Cespedes was not quite so good, they would have scored more than that. It is what this Kansas City team does. They have gone from a group of hackers to a lineup of aggressive hitters and there is a big difference. What would the 2012 Royals have done in a big game after deGrom mowed them down in order the first three innings?
All of the above touchy-feely is nice, but let’s not get carried away. As Max over at Royals Review tweeted last night, the 1985 Royals lost the first two World Series Games at home and we know how that turned out.