KANSAS CITY -- The Kansas City Royals don't strike out. I think that's the lesson of the first two games. Also: They can pitch a little, can apparently play in the rain, sometimes they don't even need Wade Davis, and Ned Yost believed Johnny Cueto was going to pitch a good game because he's Ned Yost, eternal optimist. The Royals beat the New York Mets 7-1 in a game that was close until the fifth and the series heads back to New York with the Royals up 2 games to 0.
1. The fifth inning. This is Royals baseball. Sure, Jacob deGrom was missing a lot in the middle of the strike zone, but the Royals are a team locked in at the plate. This is their style. See ball, hit ball. In his five innings, deGrom threw 94 pitches; he induced only three swings and misses, his fewest in a start all season (he had four in a game against the Yankees in April). He threw 35 pitches in the fifth inning -- giving up five hits, a walk and four runs -- and couldn’t figure out how to get these guys out.
Alex Gordon? Walked on a 3-2 slider. Alex Rios? Line single to left field on a four-seam fastball on the corner. Alcides Escobar? Two foul bunts and then a line drive to center on an 0-2 slider. Lorenzo Cain? Fouled off three 96 mph fastballs before lining out. Eric Hosmer? Base hit up the middle on an 0-1 slider, the big hit of the inning with two outs to drive in two and break a 1-1 tie. Kendrys Morales? Line-drive single to right against a changeup. Mike Moustakas? Fouled off four pitches, including two fastballs with a 3-2 count, got a curveball and singled past a diving Daniel Murphy to drive in the fourth run of the inning.
There were no bloops or gorks in the inning. The balls were hit hard. Maybe deGrom wasn’t sharp. Maybe he was a little tired after a long season. Maybe he’s just not a cold-weather pitcher -- remember that his playoff starts came twice in Los Angeles and once in an unseasonably warm Chicago. It’s interesting that two of his other lowest totals of swing and misses also came in April.
Or maybe it’s just the Royals. Before this game, deGrom had allowed just seven runs in the fifth inning all year. This night, the fifth inning is what beat him.
On Monday, deGrom was asked if he gets frustrated when he's not striking batters out. "There are a lot of times I'm not striking batters out and I don't get frustrated," he said. I think he might have been frustrated after this game.
Death by Single is a good band name.— Marc Normandin (@Marc_Normandin) October 29, 2015
I know Terry Collins used a lot of relievers last night & I know he trusts deGrom. But the bullpen barely stirred in a 4-run 35-pitch inning— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 29, 2015
That's the one second-guessing element from the inning: Collins was going to stick by deGrom, no matter the evidence in front of his eyes of hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball. After Rios and Escobar singled, I tweeted that it's not a good sign for the Mets if those two are getting hard hits. For deGrom to beat this team, he had to dominate the right-handed batters. If you get the bullpen stirring, then maybe you have Jonathon Niese ready to face Hosmer (which, granted, would have been a very quick hook for a very good pitcher) or at least for Moustakas. Other than Bartolo Colon, the Mets' bullpen hadn't actually been taxed that hard -- Niese, for example, threw only 21 pitches. But you can't fault Collins too much here; deGrom is better than most of the Mets' middle relievers. The Royals were just better on this night.
2. Eric Hosmer. His career postseason batting line doesn’t blow you away -- .294/.355/.431 – but he keeps comes coming up with big hits. With runners on base in his 28 career playoff games he’s hitting .373/.429/.559. Before his go-ahead single in the fifth, there was a conference on the mound. Pitch to Hosmer or pitch to Morales? We talked before the series how difficult the Royals are to match up against, in part, because Morales is a switch-hitter in the middle of the order between Hosmer and Moustakas. DeGrom had a big platoon split in the regular season -- a .663 OPS allowed against lefties, .475 against righties -- and he basically walked Moustakas to load the bases the inning before to face Salvador Perez and escape a jam, but you can’t really pitch around Hosmer to face the dangerous Morales.
Eric Hosmer now w/27 RBI in 28 career postseason games. Only player with more RBI in his 1st 28 career postseason games is Lou Gehrig (33).— Baseball Tonight (@BBTN) October 29, 2015
3. Johnny Cueto. His tenure with the Royals has been a disappointment, but he's come up with big games at the right time: Eight brilliant innings against the Astros in Game 5 of the Division Series and now this complete game. In the fourth inning, he walked the tightrope and the Mets had their big opportunity. He fell behind the first four batters 3-1, walking two of them. He did end up giving up the first run of the game but got two big outs: After falling behind 3-0 to David Wright on three sliders, he got Wright on a foul pop to first on a 3-2, 94-mph fastball. With two on, Yoenis Cespedes grounded to Moustakas on a 3-1 fastball.
In my pitching preview of Game 2, I mentioned this exact scenario: Wright and Cespedes against Cueto's fastball. Cueto won. Wright is now hitting .171/.320/.220 in the postseason and Cespedes is hitting .227/.244/.386 with one walk and 14 strikeouts.
After that, give Cueto credit. He threw 26 pitches in the fourth inning and was at 60 total at the time and ended up 121, surrendering just two hits, both to Lucas Duda.
Amazingly, this was the first complete game in the World Series by an American League pitcher since Jack Morris in Game 7 in 1991. It was also the first complete game two-hitter since Greg Maddux in 1995.
Johnny Cueto is the 3rd pitcher ever with two 8+ IP, 2- H starts in their entire playoff careers. The other two: Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) October 29, 2015
You try and figure Johnny Cueto out. He's a dreadlocked rollercoaster.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) October 29, 2015
4. Alex Gordon. I just wanted to point out what a good player this guy is. Two walks tonight, a double, and a whole bunch of money coming this offseason as a free agent, whether it's from the Royals or somebody else. And he's still batting eighth, which is kind of silly, but Escobar keeps getting hits from the leadoff spot -- two more in Game 2 -- and Yost ain't going to change now.
5. History. Jayson Stark had reported this factoid before the game: Of the 15 extra-inning World Series games since 1978, the losing team lost the next game 13 times. Carryover effect? Random results due to sample size? We don't know and won't pretend to. Then we have this nugget: In postseason history, the team that won the first two games of a best-of-7 series went on to win 65 of 78 times, or 83 percent.
Good luck, Mets.
Also an observation on Collins: I've seen his "I'm pretty much screwed" face plenty of times, and this is what it looks like.— Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) October 29, 2015