KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Johnny Cueto smothered the New York Mets with another big October outing. And the pesky Kansas City Royals kept fouling off Jacob deGrom’s best pitches, wearing him down with persistence and prowess.
Cueto never faltered. And as deGrom wore down, the Royals pounced.
Eric Hosmer hit a tiebreaking, two-run single with two outs in a four-run fifth inning that included 14 foul balls, and the Royals rallied to beat the Mets 7-1 Wednesday night and take a 2-0 World Series lead.
Nineteen hours after Hosmer’s sacrifice fly won a 14-inning thriller, Cueto pitched a two-hitter, varying his delivery with occasional quick pitches and keeping the Mets off balance. An excited crowd stood on its feet for long stretches on the rainy night. Some fans wore wigs resembling Cueto’s long, dark dreadlocks — including the Royals’ mascot, Slugerrr.
With Kansas City two wins from its their first title since 1985, the teams take Thursday off. New York’s Citi Field hosts its first Series game Friday, when rookie Noah Syndergaard starts for the Mets and Yordano Ventura for the Royals.
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.
Kansas City had the best contact hitters in the major leagues this season, missing on just 19.7 percent of its swings, according to STATS. The Dodgers and Cubs swung and missed 58 times in his first three postseason outings, but he got just three swings and misses against the Royals — his career low. Of his 94 pitches, 23 were fouled off by the Royals.
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.
Cueto struck out four and walked three. Both hits off him were soft singles by Lucas Duda, an infield hit to third that took advantage of the shift in the second inning and an opposite-field RBI single to left in the fourth. Cueto let loose some emotion at the end of the eighth inning, when Alcides Escobar made a nifty play to retire Juan Lagares for the final out. As Escobar sprinted past him, Cueto exchanged a flamboyant high five with the shortstop.
After Yoenis Cespedes flied to center for the final out, Cueto pointed to the sky and was congratulated by catcher Salvador Perez. Cueto pitched the first Series complete game by an AL pitcher since Minnesota’s Jack Morris won Game 7 against Atlanta in 1991.
DeGrom, 3-0 in the postseason 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 3-2 slider leading off.
Alex Rios followed with a single and Escobar fouled off a pair of bunt attempts before driving and 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 center.
Hosmer singled off the mound into center 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.