ALDS GAME 5: Cueto Wrangles with Self, Wins

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. johnny cueto

I hadn’t planned on watching this game at home, but here I am! It’s the first Royals game I watch at home, and only the sixth I’ve seen this entire season. The regular season games are not broadcast here for regular people with no special channels. I have an old computer that it utterly incapable of streaming anything, and no way am I squinting through an entire game on a smartphone. Besides, half the reason for sports is so that it can be a collective experience. But I did religiously check the standings every night and rejoiced in August and cringed in September, just like all the other Royals fans.

I did get to see one game during the regular season with Katie and Colin. It was the game where the Royals lost to the Yankees, 14 – 1. We saw it happen in person, at Yankee Stadium. Jaremy Guthrie gave up 11 runs in the first two innings, before we were able to make it to our seats.

Being Royals fans, we stuck around for the whole thing, and when it ended the sound of Frank Sinatra penetrated every corner of the stadium.

These little town blues

Are melting away

I’ll make a brand new start of it

In old New York

The song is meant to convey that no matter how the Yankees are doing, no matter their standing, they are always on top of the world by virtue of being in New York City.

In our blue shirts we were easy to pick out in the crowd as we made our way down from the nosebleed seats and  converged with some of the bleacher creatures who occupy the right field bleachers. They started singing in our general direction.

These Kansas City blues

Are melting away

We wondered briefly if they would have been easier on us if the Royals had won, and quickly concluded that they would not.

“It’s hard when you’re against the home team,” said Colin.

But anyway, back to Game 5.

I was going to watch it with Katie. She was stuck at work, and we wouldn’t be able to meet  up until a couple innings in. I was famished when I got home from work and despaired upon opening the fridge and discovering the full extent of my culinary negligence during the past week. There was nothing.

I called my favorite Mexican joint to order in, and was told it would be a forty minute wait. That is how I ended up watching the game here, amidst Yankees fans who are actively rooting against my team.

But except for some cheering and clapping in the second inning, when Johnny Cueto gave up a two-run home run, they have been poker-faced.

I did have my fair share of doubts that inning, when it seemed that Johnny Cueto’s alter ego, Johnny Couldn’t, was sticking around this postseason. He had wanted us to lose Game 2, and now he had a second chance to make it happen in Game 5. But after Valbuena hit that homerun, the real Johnny Cueto suddenly came to the mound, where he and his imposter conferred.

Cueto held out his hand to take the ball. Couldn’t shook his head. “I’m not done here. I still have to give Rasmus a three-run homer.”

“You will give me the ball,” said the real Cueto.

“I’m not sure about that.”

“I am.”

Cueto glanced over to the money seats above the Kansas City dugout, where his brothers stared fixedly at the situation. Their thick dreadlocks were unmoving in the breeze, but their muscles rippled under their micro-fiber, sweat-resistant shirts.

“Fine,” said the imposter, handing the ball to Cueto.

No one knows where he spent the rest of the game—no one would see him until showed up in Toronto a few days later. But everyone knew the real Johnny Cueto was back in Game 5 when he survives the inning with no more damage and retires the side in order each subsequent inning.

But Collin McHugh, pitching for the Astros, doesn’t concede much hope until the fourth inning.  He gives up a single to Lorenzo Cain and another Eric Hosmer—and of course Cain scores from first base. Because that’s what he does. McHugh allows himself to be more generous in the fifth inning when he hits Salvador Perez with a pitch and gives up a double to Alex Gordon. A. J. Hinch, the Astros manager, thinks he’s being too kind and puts someone else to pitch instead. The commentators say this is a guy who had a no-hitter in August. But Alex Rios doubles off this guy. After two Alexes and two doubles, and the game is in our favor, 3 – 2. For good measure, Alex Rios comes home after a pretty sacrifice bunt from Escobar–on the first pitch of course, and a sacrifice fly by Zobrist.

My roommates say nothing until the top of the next inning, when Zobrist, Gordon and Escobar all make nifty catches. Gordon and Escobar almost collide when they chase a fly ball with a zeal that makes them seem part golden retriever. It is Gordon who scoops the ball, and sweeps the foul track with his body.

“Wow, they’re sure on fire,” says one before she heads to bed.

They sure are.

But Royals’ pyromaniac streak is just getting started, apparently.  I watch as a new conflagration erupts in the eighth inning, when the Astros bring out Keuchel, who they hope will do Madison Bumgarner type things to our offense. On the second pitch Escobar hits a double, and it becomes clear that Keuchel is unable to channel Bumgarner. He tries to settle down a little bit and manages to strike out Zobrist, but then he walks Cain, the only guy who was able to score off him in Game 3—with a homerun. From there things quickly unravel for Keuchel. He probably planned on spending this inning keeping the score close, hoping his teammates would hit some homeruns. Heck, they had two homeruns in one single inning in Game 4. He was probably counting on Johnny Cueto’s imposter coming back to pitch in the ninth.

Commentators ponder why he walked Cain, and suggest he wants to get Hosmer to hit into a double play. But Hosmer wants not part of this plan and gets out on a pop-up foul ball, giving us one more out to work with. And Morales sure did work it, hitting a three-run homerun. That is two more runs than Keuchel allowed in seven entire innings during Game 3.

morales skips

skips, not bat-flips

sad keuchel

another look /AP Photo

It is the best, and Morales knows it. His is skipping, not bat-flipping, to first base when he sees the rocket he’s launched. My one remaining roommate slumps into the couch, trying to retreat into the cushions. He is silent in his resignation, I am vociferous in my rejoicing. I pump the air, bellow, and pace the length of the living room.

Wade Davis comes in for the ninth and already I know we’re going to the Champion Series. Cueto has given Royals fans something they hardly see: a starting pitcher who goes a whole eight innings. Eight whole innings! My roommate is engrossed in his phone at the game’s conclusion, but he looks up and gives me a high-five from his burrow in the couch.


This is the same guy who thought the Astros would sweep the Royals. I would have been more gracious if he hadn’t been so smug when he made his ill-informed prediction, but as it is I’m eager to rub in his face how wrong he was.

“And you thought we’d lose in three games.”

“Heh, heh, yeah.”

When people make predictions based on nothing but hubris, or the way things have always been, they’re likely to be wrong. But hey, my roommate can take comfort in the fact that a slew of commentators and analysts and maybe everyone else in MLB were also wrong about the Royals all season.














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