The Kansas City Royals took another step towards destiny, defeating the Houston Astros 7-2, to advance to the American League Championship Series. The Royals will be hosting the Toronto Blue Jays. The swag is still alive and Kansas City is walking the walk.
When the Royals traded for Johnny Cueto on July 26, it sent a message to the rest of the baseball word. The Kansas City Royals were not content to wait for another year. The time was now or never. The opportunities for small-market franchises are fleeting and very rare.
The Royals management tinkered and tweaked the team until the right combination of speed, power, and grit was formed. When the Royals began to dominate the American League Central and jumped out to a double-digit lead, all the moves were understood. There was no turning back. The Royals were definitely sending a message.
When the Royals went 11-17 in September, the groans and disappointment of the fans were loud and desperate. Cueto was struggling, and the Royals seemed to be losing the drive and energy of the month before.
The anger and disappointment disappeared on Wednesday evening. It all came together when the Royals dismantled the Astros.
The same Cueto that had fans wondering why he was wearing Royals’ blue, were singing his praises. The right-hander pitched like an orchestra conductor. He painted corners and placed the ball in spots that baffled the Astros and mesmerized his Kansas City teammates. When the night was over, Cueto had redeemed himself and pitched like the gritty competitor the Royals had traded for.
Royals’ owner David Glass was just as hyped as his players. He let that enthusiasm fly, via The Kansas City Star.
“We came up just short last year; I haven’t gotten over Game 7 last year. I’m still struggling with that,” said Royals owner David Glass, sopped in champagne in the Royals clubhouse after the game. “This year, we believed we had a chance to do it, and to do it right and to fix what we didn’t get done last year.”
“So we just collectively said, ‘Let’s go for it.'”
Cueto’s performance for the Royals was one that turned the crowd from one that was used to booing him to one that chanting his name. The Royals wanted him to pitch Game 4 but he refused because of limited days to rest.
“If we can come back and win this game,” Cueto thought to himself, “I’ll take care of business in Game 5.”
He got his chance. The Royals righty took the mound and never looked back. His awe inspiring masterpiece went eight innings. He got into trouble only once and gave up a homer in the top of the second inning. He cruised from there. Cueto commanded the attention of the Royals faithful during the final innings. The crowd showered him with applause when he ran back out for the sixth and the seventh and the eighth. The crowd seemed to energize him. He completed the sixth in five pitches. His fastball sat at 94 mph in the seventh. He netted a pair of weak grounders before leaving in the eighth.
The Royals’ organization took a chance.
Even as Cueto struggled during the season, the Royals never lost faith. They had no choice. But that trust was rewarded, and perhaps Cueto has the confidence he needs moving forward. He’s going to need it in the American League Championship Series, against the offense-minded Blue Jays.
They believed it could be done and put the pieces into place for the stretch run. The season is far from over. But the Royals have home field advantage to finish what they started.
[Feature Photo by Jamie Squire / Getty Images]