As Johnny Cueto ambled off the Rogers Centre mound on Oct. 19 to a cacophony of jeers from nearly 50,000 boisterous blue-clad Blue Jays backers, the former-Reds-ace-turned-Royals gun-for-hire flashed his trademark pearly-white grin.

Strangely enough, only during his ignominious exit did Cueto resemble himself.

Five days after Cueto retired the last 19 Houston Astros he faced in an eight-inning, eight-strikeout masterpiece during the deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series, Cueto was historically abominable in Kansas City’s 11-8 defeat in Game 3 of the ALCS, becoming the first pitcher in playoff history to allow at least eight earned runs in two or fewer innings pitched.

After pitching around a two-out walk in the first inning, Cueto came unraveled in the second. With one out, the plate appearances of Blue Jays hitters resulted in a single, hit batsman, fielder’s choice, single, walk, single, and a flyout, driving in three runs. An inning later, Toronto tacked on another single and walked twice more in addition to registering hits of the extra-base variety, adding a three-run home run, a run-scoring double, and a two-run home run (off Kris Medlen) to cap a six-run frame.

In the end, Cueto lived every pitcher’s nightmare. He had no control (four walks, one HBP). He had no feel for any of his pitches, which were sailing every which way in and around the strike zone. He had no confidence.

Cueto might as well have been pitching blindfolded.

***

On the same night where the name of Cueto’s swaying delivery (la mecedorawas revealed, Cueto recovered from his nightmare ALCS start in fine style in Game 2 of the World Series.

Nine innings. Two hits. One run. Three walks. Four strikeouts. First complete game by an American League pitcher in the World Series since Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 Fall Classic. Cueto is now the third pitcher ever with two career playoff starts of allowing two or less hits while pitching eight or more innings. The other two are Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.

Cueto was on point early, pumping strikes in a 1-2-3 first inning. A sawed-off single created Cueto’s first base runner in the second, but it was of little consequence as Cueto quickly induced a double play.

The third inning was revelatory in a few ways. First, Michael Conforto chased a 3-2 changeup that can only be described as felonious. Then, the FOX broadcast illustrated the ill-conceived strategy by Cueto, catcher Salvador Perez, and the Royals coaching staff in Game 3 of the ALCS. Kansas City was so paranoid about real or perceived sign-stealing by Toronto that Cueto and Perez went to an elaborate sign system of their own, one that appeared to get too complicated, evidenced by Cueto seemingly signaling to Perez his preferred pitch and location with his right hand before he offered to the plate. The Blue Jays picked up on these tactics and pummeled Cueto.

When did I know think Cueto looked completely at ease Wednesday night? When he flung a 3-1 cutter/slider to nab the inside of the strike zone vs. Curtis Granderson in the fourth inning. Cueto would go on to walk Granderson and Daniel Murphy in the fourth — an amorphous strike zone from home plate umpire Mark Carlson didn’t do Cueto any favors — which helped foster in an unearned run for the Mets later in the inning.

But Cueto recovered to log 1-2-3 frames in the fifth and the sixth, ending the latter with a vintage Cueto offering, a 94 mph dart on the inside portion of the plate to catch Murphy looking at strike three. By that time, the Royals offense had already knocked Jacob deGrom from the game, battering the Mets starter for six hits and four runs over five innings.

In the seventh, Cueto unfurled another fall-off-the-table changeup to punch out Yoenis Cespedes. By now, Cueto was swaying his hips between pitches, clearly in the groove. On his 122nd pitch of the night, Cueto generated a flyout to right field off Cespedes’ bat, the final out of the game. Shortly thereafter, Cueto was handed the game ball from Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. The Royals seized a 2-0 lead in the World Series, and Cueto’s agent probably felt comfortable enough to do his best Jerry Maguire impersonation.

***

Entering Wednesday night, it was fair to wonder what had happened to Cueto since he was traded from Cincinnati to Kansas City on July 26. In 19 starts for the Reds in 2015, Cueto posted a 2.62 ERA in 130.2 innings. He averaged over eight strikeouts per nine innings and just over six hits allowed per nine innings. In 13 regular-season starts for the Royals, Cueto’s ERA was 4.76. His strikeout rate crashed (6.2 K/9) and hit rate skyrocketed (11.2 H/9).

Cueto said he wasn’t hurt. The issues with Perez’s positioning were supposedly ironed out. FOX’s broadcast noted that those positioning problems resurfaced in the ALCS, but were rectified leading up to Game 2 of the World Series, and it appeared as if Perez was presenting a lower target Wednesday night.

All seems to be right with Cueto and Kansas City now. With the way Royals hitters are wearing down the Mets’ young starters with their contract-driven approach, Cueto may not have to pitch again this series. And with a World Series championship and a large offseason payday on deck, Cueto’s occasionally excellent, occasionally strange Kansas City Adventure will have been worth it.

Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. It’s interesting to contemplate how much money has been at stake in each of Cueto’s postseason starts. You would think potential suitors would take into account his longer term performance. But it’s hard not to suspect tens-of-millions of dollars have been on the line each night – each inning. Crazy.

    • Yeah, a couple of weeks ago MLBTR was dropping JC out of the truly elite class and saying he might end up stuck with 4 year A-/B+ level deal. One more game like Tuesday and he’s back into the top echelon for sure I would think.

    • I would hazard a guess that Cueto will now be in line for a Scherzer type of deal instead of a Lester type of deal. Cueto has disspelled the one knock on him, post-season success. He is now a proven commodity in that regard. Two gems totaling 17 innings pitched in one post-season. What a perfect time for JC to get a ring in his free agent year. If he gets that ring, that will be one more than David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija have. It’ll be interesting to see where Cueto lands and at what price. Will it be closer to Lester’s 6 yr/$155M deal, closer to Scherzer’s 7 yr/$210M deal, or right about in the middle? Either way, still way out of what the Reds could afford.
      The Cody Reed kid the Reds got in the Cueto deal is going to be a very, very special pitcher.

      • Any pitching prospect is an injury away from being a bust but as things stand now, I agree on Reed. I think Finnegan will also be a very significant contributor; and, Lamb could turn into an effective innings eater.

        Having lived through the era when Mario Soto was one of the best pitchers in baseball on one of the worst teams, I’ve got no complaints on how things appear to have turned out with Cueto.

  2. It seems as if most of JC’s problems since his move to KC trace back to these arcane technical points we hardly even notice or think about. As the issues get resolved and JC familiarizes himself with the AL hitters, the same old (good) JC emerges.

    I’m sure the AL hitters are hoping JC jumps back into the NL and the NL hitters are hoping he stays in the AL.

  3. Great game by Cueto.He will get paid for sure and maybe overpaid but hey when healthy he will get you 14-20 wins a year.We just can’t afford him so I wish him the best

  4. I realize they’re prospects and anything can happen, but Jocketty and company did quite well in the Cueto, Simon and Latos trades. Hopefully the draft and future trades will provide prospects on the offensive side.

    • Not as long as Jocketty keeps living by the outdated “You win with pitching.” mantra.

      I mean, it’s great that the Reds have such a deep stable of young pitchers. The problem is, it’s not 2005 any more.

  5. Just one correction…it was the Astros who were on the receiving end of that masterful ALDS performance by Cueto… otherwise, great article!

  6. I’m just praying the Cubs don’t get their hands on Cueto.

    • That would be hard to stomach. The Cubs are driving me nuts, because their franchise top to bottom is actually… Well, I mean… It’s… Somewhat….

      Likable?

      And then if they got Cueto, a guy no one outside of St. Louis and Jason LaRue could possibly hate?

      ARRRRGH!

      • I’m just going to say it…I was actively rooting for the Cubs this postseason. They will never be in the same villainous class as the Cardinals for me. Cueto going there would be tough but I would love the chance to watch him at GABP a couple times a year.

  7. The name of Cueto’s delivery was revealed in a Jim Day post-game interview very early this season. Brayan Pena was translating for him and didn’t know the English word for it.

Comments are closed.

Category

Former Reds

Tags