Royals' dazzling defense helps Cueto cruise

Zobrist, Gordon, Escobar flash leather to help lift KC into ALCS

Royals' dazzling defense helps Cueto cruise

KANSAS CITY -- While Johnny Cueto was undoubtedly dominant and Wade Davis threw a perfect ninth to close out the Royals' series-clinching, 7-2 win over the Astros, they were both helped by several outstanding defensive plays on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Kauffman Stadium.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist said Cueto's pace and pitch location helped the defense stay alert throughout the game, and it paid off, as the Astros only had two players reach all night with the Royals retiring the final 22 hitters of the game, including 19 straight set down by Cueto.

Shop for Royals postseason gear

Game Date Result
Gm 1 Oct. 8 HOU 5, KC 2
Gm 2 Oct. 9 KC 5, HOU 4
Gm 3 Oct. 11 HOU 4, KC 2
Gm 4 Oct. 12 KC 9, HOU 6
Gm 5 Oct. 14 KC 7, HOU 2

"It's always big for the defense to know he's throwing strikes out there," Zobrist said. "It just puts you on your toes and makes you ready for every pitch and every at-bat. You get better defense when you get that. He got the better defense, but he also made the pitches."

Zobrist got into the action with a leaping catch at second base to rob Carlos Correa of a leadoff hit in the seventh. Correa couldn't help but smile with amazement as he headed back to the dugout after Zobrist's snare.

"I didn't know I had it," Zobrist said. "I don't think I had my eyes open as the ball was coming to me. As far as jumping off the ground, I probably got three or four inches off the ground, which is good for me. I don't jump real well, but I'm long enough {and} I was able to stretch and get that one."

Zobrist's leaping snag

Left fielder Alex Gordon also made an impressive catch, sliding in foul territory to catch a fly ball down the left-field line from Jose Altuve in the sixth.

"Guys made plays all around the field," center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. "It's the kind of team we have. We're a pitching-and-defense kind of team. And if we swing the bats, we're dangerous."

Shortstop Alcides Escobar made a nice play in the sixth, going back on a pop fly from Jason Castro to make a difficult catch for the first out. He said it was just a typical game for the Royals, who led the AL in many advanced defensive metrics during the regular season, including Defensive Runs Saved, Range Factor and Ultimate Zone Rating.

"This defense here in K.C., everybody here makes plays," Escobar said. "Any team that has a great defense, you win a lot of games."

Escobar catches popup

The game ended on a great catch from defensive substitute Paulo Orlando up against the right-field fence to rob George Springer and send the Royals to the AL Championship Series for a second straight year.

"That was a great catch by Orlando," said Alex Rios, who was replaced by Orlando in the eighth. "It ended the game and it was an amazing feeling."

Royals advance to ALCS

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.