A 9.57 ERA in a five-start stretch is not what fans had in mind when the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto back in July. Weeks removed from his last quality start, the Royals' ace finally returned to form on Friday night in Detroit.
Cueto fired seven strong innings, yielding just two runs on eight hits, six of which were singles. He struck out four Tigers and walked one. He was unexplainably sent back out for an eighth inning to face the top of the order for the fourth time, and he ultimately put the winning run aboard. When that run came around to score, Cueto found himself staring down the barrel of a sixth straight loss.
His battery mate saved him...twice...but in extra innings, the team's closer failed.
Early on, it looked like it would be yet another rough outing for Cueto, as the Tigers plated a run just three batters into the game. Miguel Cabrera's opposite-field RBI double jumped Detroit in front 1-0, but after that, Cueto really settled into a very strong start. He worked around some trouble in the next couple of innings before locking down. From innings four through seven, he retired 12 of 14 hitters.
In the fifth inning, the Royals tied the game on a two-out RBI double by Paulo Orlando. Kansas City got the leadoff man on in each of the next three innings, but in each case, the go-ahead run was stranded.
With Cueto locked into a pitching duel against Justin Verlander, it wasn't until the eighth inning when more blood was drawn. Anthony Gose worked the count full before lining an opposite-field double. Wade Davis was summoned, but he ultimately wound up surrendering the go-ahead run via a Cabrera sacrifice fly. The Tigers added an additional run when Victor Martinez hit a sac fly of his own.
Ned Yost has been mostly good all season, but this was just a mistake that everybody saw coming. Why wouldn't you let Wade Davis pitch at the start of the eighth? As good as Cueto was, milking him until he gives you a sign that he's finished probably isn't a smart strategy.
It didn't help that Wade Davis was very un-Davis like. He walked two hitters. He committed an error that led to the Tigers' third run. He threw 30 pitches for the first time since the first week of June. Still, because of his own error, the run was unearned. His ERA is now 0.88.
Verlander nearly worked a complete game, shutting down the Royals over 8 2/3 innings. He allowed just five hits, the last of which was a ninth inning and seemingly meaningless two-out single by Eric Hosmer. As boos rained down from disappointed fans hoping to see Verlander finish the game, Brad Ausmus lifted his starter for reliever Alex Wilson, who needed to retire Salvador Perez to save the game.
But Wilson did not retire Perez.
Perez clobbered a belt-high fastball over the left-field fence, tying the game with one swing and accounting for his 20th home run of the season. He is the second catcher in team history to hit 20 home runs. It was such an amazing and fun moment, so I'll embed the video for you all to enjoy right here
Kelvin Herrera worked the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extras. Miguel Cabrera came up with the winning run on third and two outs, but on the 10th pitch of a nerve-wracking at bat, Herrera got the game's best hitter to popup and end the threat. Ryan Madson got Kansas City through the 10th, and Luke Hochevar breezed through the 11th. Neither allowed a baserunner.
In the 12th, Perez once again came through when he led off with a single. He was lifted for pinch runner Terrence Gore, who immediately stole second and was bunted to third by Jarrod Dyson. After Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked, Orlando drove in his second run of the night with a groundout. The go-ahead run gave Kansas City a 4-3 advantage.
Greg Holland was called on protect the lead, but he walked in the tying run with two outs. Then Dixon Machado came through to lift a game-winning single down the left-field line. Prior to the contest, Machado had eight career hits at the major-league level.
The Royals are 86-61. The Twins were rained out, so the magic number remains at six. Kansas City has not won back-to-back games since September 2 and 3. It was a crippling loss for the Royals, who see their lead for homefield advantage over Toronto fall to one.
Oh, and the game began 23 minutes late because of a stadium lights delay. It's almost as if the entire city of Detroit used their last cent paying Cabrera and Verlander's enormous contracts.