Johnny Cueto is a hired gun for the Kansas City Royals, plain and simple.
Nobody really expects Cueto to be around next year when the Royals begin their bid for a third straight trip to the playoffs. Cueto was brought in specifically for one purpose and that was to win a game the magnitude of Wednesday’s decider against the pesky Houston Astros. He’ll take his money and run after this season as there are only a handful teams that will be able to afford him.
Cueto suddenly turned back the clock against the Astros and perhaps upped his asking price, pinwheeling and weaving a magical spell that saw him give up only two hits (I still contend Mike Moustakas should have been charged with an error) and no other baserunners as his control was pinpoint. He finally looked like the Cueto that enticed the Royals to give up three pitching prospects, two of whom made some September starts for the Cincinnati Reds and figure to be a part of their future.
A spot-on Cueto brings the Royals so much more moving on to the championship series. They feed off his style, his swagger. The body language they played with Wednesday was exemplary. Even when they found themselves in a familiar spot — trailing — there was no panic. Once they got the lead you knew it was over. Kendrys Morales then provided the coup de grace with a three-run mash off Dallas Keuchel, the probable Cy Young winner who solidified the theory that a pitcher who starts all season struggles when thrust into relief for the first time.
But it didn’t matter as it turned out to be little more than window dressing.
Cueto had seen to that. I thought after Morales’ bomb, Ned Yost might send him out for the ninth inning since he still had a reasonable pitch count and the atmosphere had become beyond festive. Johnny could have reveled in that last inning and shimmied his way to the final three outs.
But when Yost gets Wade Davis up, he’s going to use him. And with a five-run lead, Davis threw pellets since he knew he had plenty of wiggle room. He’s established himself as the closer not just for now, but for next year as we’ll probably never see Greg Holland in that role again, even when he comes back in 2017 since he’ll be out next year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Royals’ playoff experience of 2014 is serving them well. No longer are they the wide-eyed, just-glad-to-be-there Royals, with all their childish antics with the various signals to the dugout after a big hit. If they had somehow solved Madison Bumgarner last year that truly would have been a fairytale.
But there’s no fairytale this year and they’re not just a cutesy story. They have been the American League’s best team for 5 3/4 months out of six, with a brief slip in September. Toronto is going to be a handful and the Rogers Center will be bonkers. I’m guessing there won’t be any more bottled beer sold after Wednesday’s sorry display and security will be heightened. But it will be loud and fortunately the Royals may only have to play three games there, maybe less.
Toronto is much like Houston in that it pounds the ball into submission and doesn’t have a good back end of the bullpen. If the Royals pitchers can keep the ball in the park, KC could be heading to the World Series for a second straight year.