How Johnny Cueto Shut Down the Mets

The Royals head to New York with a 2-0 series lead thanks to a magical performance from their ace.

Hello there Dr. Jekyl. It's a pleasure to see you.

In Game 2 of the World Series, the Kansas City Royals got Bruce Banner, not the Hulk. They did not get Mr. Hyde. They got Edward Nigma, not the Riddler.

In other words, the "good" Johnny Cueto, the one who won 20 games last year and has been one of the best starters in baseball for the last six seasons, showed up in a big way in Kansas City's 7-1 win over the Mets. And because "Good Johnny" showed up, the Royals head to New York with a firm 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. 

The Royals' chances of winning their first title since 1985 are looking awfully good right now, as no team that has fallen in an 0-2 hole has come back to win the World Series in 19 years. The last to do it was the 1996 Yankees, and only 11 teams have managed to pull off the feat.

This was the reason I felt Cueto was the most important player for the Royals heading into the World Series. Kansas City traded away three good young arms in order to rent him for the rest of the season in the hopes they would be able to add an ace-caliber pitcher to their rotation, one that would pitch deep into games and reduce the need to have their excellent relievers get 9 to 12 outs a game.

Last night, Cueto was more than up to the task.

The only Mets batter to get a hit against Cueto was Lucas Duda, who went 2-for-3 against him. Everyone else in New York's lineup went 0-for-25.

Just how rare was Cueto's complete game masterpiece? It was the first complete game in the World Series by an American League pitcher since Minnesota's Jack Morris won Game 7 against the Braves in 2001. He is the first pitcher to throw a complete game in a World Series game that involved a designated hitter since Philadelphia's Cliff Lee dazzled the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series. He is the first pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1995 to throw a Fall Classic complete game when allowing two or fewer hits, and he joins Roger Clemens as the only pitchers with two starts in the same postseason in which they went at least eight innings and gave up two hits or fewer.

And there was this.

So yeah, it was kind of special. But at the beginning of the night, no one knew what to expect out of Cueto, given his wacky, up-and-down 2015 regular season.

Team Starts W L ERA FIP WHIP H/9 K/9 BB/9
Cincinnati 19 7 6 2.62 3.20 0.934 6.4 8.3 2.0
Kansas City 13 4 7 4.76 4.06 1.451 11.2 6.2 1.9

He was a stud with the Reds before he was dealt to the Royals, but after joining Kansas City, struggled mightily in virtually every category. And his playoff starts, including last night, have been all over the place.

Postseason Game Opponent IP H ER SO BB
ALDS Game 2 Houston 6 7 4 5 3
ALDS Game 5 Houston 8 2 2 8 0
ALCS Game 3 Toronto 2 6 8 2 4
World Series Game 1 New York 9 2 1 4 3

Two duds. Two studs. It has been a living, breathing case of multiple personality syndrome.

But perhaps it shouldn't have been so surprising. As I wrote in my  Game 2 preview on Wednesday, over the last five years, several Mets hitters had had numerous cracks against him and not done a whole lot. Curtis Granderson had gone deep twice off Johnny but had hit just .250 against him in 12 career at-bats. David Wright had a .235 batting average and a homer in 17 at-bats. Lucas Duda (.200, one homer in 15 at-bats), Juan Lagares (.167 in 12 at-bats) and Daniel Murphy (.200 in 15 at-bats) also have had limited success against him over the last five years heading into Game 2.

The Mets were kept off-balance all game long by Cueto's delivery, which varied from quick-pitch to a slow-motion, Bugs Bunny-like windup that messed with the timing of New York hitters.

And it's clear Cueto, a potential free agent, helped himself tremendously from a financial standpoint with his Game 2 performance. More importantly, in winning a pitching matchup against Jacob deGrom that seemed to favor the Mets at the start of the series, the Royals grabbed a stranglehold on the World Seires, thanks to their ace.