Behind Johnny Cueto’s 2-hitter, the Royals defeated the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series to take a 2–0 series lead

By Jay Jaffe
October 28, 2015

Game 2 of the World Series promised a battle of long-haired hurlers, featuring the dreadlocks of the Royals’ Johnny Cueto versus the free-flowing mane of Jacob deGrom. The former spun a two-hitter and went the distance, while the latter couldn’t keep the opposition out of his hair, as the Royals rolled to a 7–1 victory to take a 2–0 series lead. Here are three quick thoughts on the game:

Cueto delivers

When the Royals laid out their World Series rotation, they opted for Cueto over Yordano Ventura in Game 2 in part because of their marquee midseason acquisition’s struggles on the road, including the eight runs in two-plus innings he allowed in his previous start in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays. Not to mention the sizzling .324/.366/.514 line opposing batters compiled against him away from Kauffman Stadium following his trade from the Reds.

The Cueto that took the mound in Game 2 pitched a lot more like the ace who won Game 5 of the division series against the Astros. He allowed just two hits and three walks over nine innings while striking out four on Wednesday night. He and deGrom came out firing and were effective and economical early in the game, a key consideration given the extent to which the two teams’ bullpens were taxed by the 14-inning Game 1. Cueto faced the minimum through three innings on a total of 34 pitches allowing only a shift-beating infield single by Lucas Duda that was quickly erased by a double play.

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​Cueto began missing the strike zone with regularity in the fourth, however, going 3–1 on four straight hitters and issuing walks to Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy; Cueto threw 15 balls in the frame, compared to 10 in the previous three. Nonetheless, he appeared to be out of the inning when Yoenis Cespedes hit a sharp grounder to Mike Moustakas, who got the force-out at third base and threw to first, but the throw pulled Eric Hosmer off the bag. Two pitches later, Duda hit a soft flare into shallow leftfield that brought Murphy home with the game’s first run.

Cueto stopped the bleeding there, however, retiring the next 15 batters before Murphy drew a two-out walk in the ninth, a mere speed-bump on the way to victory. It was the first complete game by an AL hurler in a World Series game since Jack Morris in Game 7 in 1991 and just the fifth by a starter from either league in the last 20 years, three of them shutouts.

Player date game # team OPP. line
Randy Johnson 10/28/2001 2 ARI NYY 3 H, 1 BB, 11 K
Josh Beckett 10/25/2003 6 FLA NYY 5 H, 2 BB, 9 K
Cliff Lee 10/28/2009 1 PHI NYY 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 10 K
Madison Bumgarner 10/26/2014 5 SF KC 4 H, 0 BB, 8 K
Johnny Cueto 10/28-2015 2 KC NYM 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K

Though he generated just three swings and misses from among his 122 pitches, he threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 31 batters he faced, including eight in a row from the fifth through the seventh and held every Met besides Duda hitless.

DeGrom defeated

After holding the Royals hitless through the first three innings on a combined 38 pitches, blemished only by a walk of Alex Gordon, deGrom began to scuffle in the fourth even when given a 1–0 lead. First Ben Zobrist reached when Duda failed to come up with a ball he was attempting to backhand; the play was ruled an error. Two batters later, Hosmer netted the Royals’ first hit with a dying quail that landed inches in front of centerfielder Juan Lagares, and then Moustakas walked to load the bases, a situation that deGrom faced just seven times during the 2015 regular season. Fortunately for him, Salvador Perez—he of the AL-low .280 on-base percentage—was willing to swing at anything, including a 95-mph fastball that was about six inches off the plate, suitable for tapping a weak inning-ending grounder to shortstop.

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The Royals kept coming, however. Gordon worked another walk to start the fifth and then Alex Rios followed with a single, turning the lineup over. When Alcides Escobar followed with a game-tying RBI single to centerfield, it was just the second hit in 27 plate appearances deGrom had allowed when facing batters for the third time through the order this postseason. The difference was that in his first three starts, he netted a total of 53 swings and misses; to that point in Game 4, he had just one. After a groundout advanced Rios and Escobar, Lagares made a strong throw home after catching Lorenzo Cain’s line drive to centerfield, preventing Rios from trying to score on a sacrifice fly. It didn’t matter because Hosmer broke the game open with a two-run single up the middle, giving Kansas City a 3–1 lead, and singles by Kendrys Morales and Moustakas added a fourth run.

DeGrom needed 35 pitches to get out of the inning, pushing him to 94 on the night, and sending him to the showers. He left having generated a career-low three swings and misses, none from among his 24 two-strike pitches, and finished with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) for the first time in 34 starts this year. While fatigue might have had something to do with it—he’s now at 216 innings, 37 1/3 past last year’s career high—the Royals’ contact-oriented approach served them well. That said, while much was made of the team’s success against high-velocity fastballs this year, Rios’s hit was the only one of the six he allowed that came on the fastball.

Hot and not

• Escobar’s RBI single extended his postseason hitting streak to 12 games, one shy of Cain’s franchise-record 13-game streak that bridged the 2014 and ’15 postseasons, and five shy of the wild-card-era record shared by Manny Ramirez (2003–04) and Derek Jeter (1998–99). Including his RBI triple in the eighth against Addison Reed, which brought home the Royals’ seventh and final run, he’s batting .364/.383/.582 in 57 plate appearances thus far this postseason.

• Moustakas collected two hits for the third game in a row, and is 6 for 13 with a home run in that span after starting the postseason in a 5-for-38 rut.

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• After homering in a record six straight postseason games, Murphy has now gone homer-less in two straight, which happens even to the best of ’em. More notably, while he did draw two walks and score the Mets’ lone run, Game 2 marked the first time all postseason he went hitless, ending his streak at 10 straight games. He’s still batting .383/.420/.872 in 50 PA so far in the 2015 playoffs.

• Cespedes went 0 for 4 and is 1 for 10 with three strikeouts in the series thus far. He’s hitting just .227/.244/.386 in the postseason, has just one extra-base hit in his last eight games after homering in division series Games 2 and 3 against the Dodgers and has one walk in 45 PA. The injury to the AC joint of his left shoulder, for which he received a cortisone shot after the conclusion of the NLCS, may well be a factor.

• David Wright’s woes continue. After going 0 for 4 in Game 2, he’s batting just .171/.320/.220 in 50 PA in the postseason, with 14 strikeouts.