KANSAS CITY: Dominican pitcher Johnny Cueto shrugged off a poor playoff outing with the greatest performance of his career, putting the Kansas City Royals halfway to their first World Series title in 30 years.
The 29-year-old right-hander hurled a two-hit, complete game triumph Wednesday as the Royals blasted the New York Mets 7-1 to seize a 2-0 lead in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven championship series.
“It’s a lot of pride being able to do what I did out there,” Cueto said. “That’s what they brought me here for, to help win a World Series.”
It has been a roller coaster playoff run for Cueto, who pitched the Royals past Houston in a last-game showdown in the divisional playoff round. He allowed only two runs on two hits over eight innings while striking out eight in a 7-2 road triumph — an effort he considers superior to his epic World Series debut.
“If we don’t win that game, we’re not here to experience this,” Cueto said.
But Cueto was punished for eight runs on six hits with four walks in only two innings on the mound at Toronto in an 11-8 game three loss in the American League Championship Series.
That set the stage for his amazing effort against the Mets, who had never been held to so few hits in a playoff outing.
“You saw it even in the last inning,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of Cueto. “Still changing speeds, throwing strikes, using his changeup, pitching to both sides of the plate. He pitched great.”
Cueto joined Roger Clemens as the only pitchers with two starts in the same playoff run that lasted at least eight innings with two or fewer hits allowed.
Break for bullpen
More than that, Cueto’s effort allowed the entire Royals bullpen of relief pitchers to take the night off after almost all of them took the mound in a 5-4, 14-inning victory in game one. That gives them two nights off before game three Friday in New York. And that could spell the difference between winning and losing there.
“Last night we had to burn the bullpen pretty good,” Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “For him to come out and throw a complete game, and really save those guys, getting them two days off heading to New York, is huge.
“That’s what an ace does. When you realize that your bullpen is pretty much spent and they’re pretty much burned out, he pretty much went out there and put the team on his back.”
Royals manager Ned Yost was going to use reliever Wade Davis in the final inning but three extra runs in the eighth to create the final margin convinced him to let Cueto complete what he started.
“Johnny had done his job at that point,” Yost said. “Johnny wanted to go back out. I [said]if we score a couple of runs we’ll let you go back out, and we did.”
The Royals took pride in helping Cueto pitch the first World Series complete game by an American League hurler since Minnesota’s Jack Morris in 1991 and the first such effort with no more than two hits allowed since Boston’s Jim Lonborg in 1967.
“The offense and all the boys in the dugout really wanted to see him go out and finish it,” Hosmer said. “ We were glad we put up those two runs so he could go out and finish the job.”