Game 2 of the World Series is Wednesday with the Kansas City Royals up one after winning 5-4 in 14 innings Tuesday night. The Royals say they have the pieces to go all the way against the New York Mets.
The biggest splash was when the Royals picked up pitcher Johnny Cueto in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds last July; and he will be on the mound for Kansas City tonight.
It was difficult for some Reds fans to say good-bye, but they’re keeping a watchful eye on the World Series.
Braxton Smith, a financial advisor from Pikeville, Kentucky, didn’t want to miss Johnny Cueto’s first trip back to Cincinnati in August after the trade.
It was OK with Smith that Cueto started neither of the two games between the Royals; he was just happy to see him back at Great American Ball Park.
"I’m going to be with Johnny for the rest of his career," Smith said. "Hands down. I’m always going to be a Reds fan, but I am a 100 percent Johnny Cueto fan.”
Smith wore his Reds’ Cueto jersey when the Royals played at Great American.
“The whole package as a baseball player, as a whole, got me with Johnny Cueto," Smith said. "I’m just a Johnny Cueto fan, said Smith.”
Also wearing his Reds’ Cueto jersey was Josh Shortt, a season-ticket holder from Erlanger. Shortt says he was stung by the Cueto trade, but figured it was coming because he understands the business side.
Nevertheless, he’ll pull for the Royals in the World Series. Shortt adds he appreciates what Cueto did for the Reds.
“It was just great. He was the first real home-grown pitcher, let alone an ace that had come up through the system that actually did anything," Shortt said. "He didn’t just flame out. He actually lived up to his potential."
Right away in Kansas City, Cueto made a literal splash. Any Royals player who submits to a post-game TV interview on the field as the star player in a home victory is subjected to a Gatorade dousing by Royals catcher Salvador Perez. In his new surroundings, Cueto got one.
"He wasn’t expecting it, but he earned it,” said Cueto translator Pedro Grifol as they both laughed. Cueto threw a complete game shutout, the only Royals pitcher to accomplish that this year. But since then it’s been a rocky road.
Cueto could look like a Cy Young Award winner as he did with the season on the line against the Houston Astros in the division series.
He went eight innings in that game and retired the last 19 batters he faced. Or the 29-year-old, who started three post-season games for the Reds, could be very ordinary.
In Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Toronto, Cueto didn’t make it through the third inning. Afterward, that led The Kansas City Star Royals beat writer Andy McCullough to ask Royals manager Ned Yost: “At this point with Johnny after three months, do you find yourself just sort of unsure of which guy’s going to come to the mound?”
Though Yost was steadfast in his public support of Cueto, he chose to overlook Cueto to start game one of the World Series. Instead, Yost gave the nod to Edinson Volquez, who had his best big league season with the Reds in 2008 with 17 victories. Yost says it sets up Cueto to pitch two games in the World Series, Game 2 and Game 6 if necessary in the best-of-seven.
“We think that that gives us a bit of an advantage of having Johnny pitching at home in front of our home crowd," Yost said. "They really, really give him a lot of energy."
USA Today national baseball writer Bob Nightengale agrees with the move, but says his starts are not only important now for the Royals, but also for Cueto’s future.
“It’s up to Cueto to step up to see if he could get a big contract," Nightengale said. "If not, he could be in for a rude awakening if he has some bad starts here in the World Series."
Cueto can sign with any team as a free agent after the World Series. Cueto fan Braxton Smith is not only pulling for Cueto, but has only one wish after it’s all over.
“We’ll see what happens," Smith said. "Just don’t be a Yankee, Johnny.”
Whether or not Cueto will eventually be a Yankee, he’s counted on now to beat a team from New York.