KANSAS CITY, Mo. Following the final out, after Johnny Cueto completed his two-hitter, several hundred fans remained in Kauffman Stadium, wanting one more look at the Kansas City Royals.
The next time they see Eric Hosmer and his teammates may be in a parade.
After smothering the Mets 7-1 Wednesday night with Cueto and their pesky offence, the Royals have a 2-0 World Series lead and can capture their first title since 1985 when play resumes at New York’s Citi Field this weekend.
Rather than look ahead and anticipate a celebration, Hosmer thought back to Kansas City’s crushing seven-game loss to the Giants in 2014.
“There’s still a lot of work yet to do,” he said. “Last year we took a 2-1 lead in San Francisco and were feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
Kansas City wore down Jacob deGrom with persistence and prowess, then pounced. Hosmer hit a tiebreaking, two-run single with two outs in a four-run fifth inning that included 14 foul balls.
Nineteen hours after Hosmer’s sacrifice fly won a 14-inning thriller, Cueto varied his delivery with occasional quick pitches and kept the Mets off balance. An excited crowd stood on its feet for long stretches to cheer on the rainy night. Some fans wore wigs resembling Cueto’s long, dark dreadlocks ‚Äî including the Royals’ mascot, Slugerrr.
After Thursday’s day off, Citi Field hosts its first Series game Friday. Forty-one of the 51 teams to take 2-0 leads in best-of-seven World Series have gone on to win the title, including nine straight since Atlanta stumbled against the New York Yankees in 1996.
“I don’t want it coming back here,” Alcides Escobar said. “I want to finish it there.”
Kansas City had the best contact hitters in the major leagues this season, missing on just 19.7 per cent of swings, according to STATS. The Dodgers and Cubs swung and missed 58 times in deGrom’s first three post-season outings; even though he threw at up to 98 mph, deGrom got just three swings and misses against the Royals ‚Äî his career low.
“We don’t swing and miss,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “We find ways to just keep putting the ball in play until you find holes.”
Of deGrom’s 94 pitches, 23 were fouled off.
“I’ve learned that they hit mistakes very well,” Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “I’ve learned that they don’t try to do too much with the baseball. They keep the line moving.”
Cueto has struggled on the road, where opposing fans taunt him by repeating his name in a sing-song voice. But since the Royals acquired the free-agent-to-be from Cincinnati in July, he’s been Johnny on the spot at Kauffman Stadium. He pitched two-hit ball over eight innings to win Game 5 of the Division Series against Houston, and Kansas City lined up its Series rotation to have Cueto starting Games 2 and 6 at home.
His hair obscuring the royal blue letters across the back of his white uniform, Cueto struck out four and walked three in the low-hit Series complete game by an AL pitcher since Boston’s Jim Lonborg’s one-hitter against St. Louis in 1967.
“As a hitter it’s all about timing, and he disrupted it tonight for sure,” Mets captain David Wright said after an 0-for-4 night.
Both New York hits were soft singles by Lucas Duda, an infield roller to third that took advantage of the shift in the second inning and an opposite-field RBI single to left in the fourth. When Yoenis Cespedes flied to centre for the final out, Cueto pointed to the sky, kissed his hand, tapped his chest softly twice and hugged catcher Salvador Perez. Cueto tossed the first Series complete game by an AL pitcher since Minnesota’s Jack Morris won Game 7 against Atlanta in 1991.
“That’s what they brought me here for, was to help win a World Series,” Cueto said.
DeGrom, 3-0 in the post-season coming in, allowed four runs, six hits and three walks over five innings in a hairy matchup of pitchers with contrasting long locks. Pitching with seven days’ rest, deGrom held Kansas City to one hit through four innings but got in trouble in the fifth, when he walked Alex Gordon on a full-count slider leading off.
Alex Rios followed with a single and Escobar fouled off a pair of bunt attempts before driving an 0-2 slider up the middle for a tying single.
Ben Zobrist’s grounder advanced the runners, and Lorenzo Cain fouled off four pitches before a flyout to short centre. Hosmer singled off the mound into centre field for a 3-1 lead, and Kendrys Morales’ singled in another run.
Gordon added an RBI double in the eighth off Jon Niese, a ball off the glove of shortstop Wilmer Flores. Paulo Orlando, the first Brazil-born player to appear in a Series, followed with a sacrifice fly against Addison Reed, and Escobar tripled in a run.
That was more than enough against the Mets, who are hitting .165 in the Series with one extra-base hit.
“By no means are we done,” Duda said. “We’ve created a hole for ourselves, but we’ve been here before.”
Rookie Noah Syndergaard starts Game 3 for the Mets and Yordano Ventura for the Royals.
DROPPING A PAIR
New York is 0-2 for its third straight World Series. The Mets beat Boston in seven games in 1986 and lost to the Yankees in five in 2000.