KANSAS CITY -- Beginning Friday night at Citi Field in New York, the Royals and Mets are scheduled to play three straight World Series games without a break. Not a lot, by baseball standards. But a stretch that could have given Kansas City pause.
The Royals go to their bullpen early and often. The relievers chipped in for eight of the 14 innings in Game 1 Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. And with Johnny Cueto, who has been up and down since being traded from Cincinnati before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, starting Game 2, the possibility that the relievers would be called on to carry the load again Wednesday had to at least be considered.
Except, of course, it didn't turn out that way. Cueto pitched a complete game. The Royals won, 7-1, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which resumes Friday (air time 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, game time at 8 p.m. ET). And while there are statistics to show precisely what Kansas City's odds of winning it all are now (83.3 percent), their chances are just a little better than that because the relievers got the night off going into Thursday's open date.
"Very important," said pitching coach Dave Eiland. "They get two days off and now we've got three [games] is a row. Everybody knows our profile. We lean heavily on our bullpen. So to give those guys, especially the back end, two days off? Now they can go three days in a row. So, very important."
It's not just that closer Wade Davis has been used six times in the postseason. He's been used for more than an inning at times. Same with setup man Kelvin Herrera, who has pitched nine times (0.90 ERA). Ryan Madson has seven appearances, and Luke Hochevar six.
Herrera, Davis and Madson all were in the Top 20 in games pitched in the American League this season.
So, yeah, the relievers were pretty excited to see Cueto pitch a complete game, even though Herrera and Davis both warmed up.
Madson said the bullpen guys had even offered Cueto some, um, inducements if he went all nine innings.
"We were saying we would do some special things in order for him to throw a complete game," Madson said with a sly grin. "I don't think any of us want to keep those promises. We're just going to let that pass. I'm not going to elaborate on it. There were a lot of big promises made. ... Hopefully, he'll give everybody a pass on it. We were rooting for him. We wanted him to go back out for the ninth, no matter what."
It helped that the Royals tacked on three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, taking the game out of a save situation.
"That was key," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "To score those three runs and let Johnny go back out and finish the game, not use anybody in the 'pen. Wade got loose. Kelvin got a little loose. But it's not like coming in and pitching an inning. And with that off-day, they'll be ready to go for the three-game stretch in New York."
Davis, who hasn't allowed a run in the postseason, jokingly referred to Wednesday as a half-day off, quickly adding: "It means a ton. Everybody's thrown a ton of games this year and any time you can get a day off, especially with your starter throwing a complete game, it's pretty big."
Hochevar, who is also unscored upon, put Cueto's performance in the context of what immediately preceded it and what lies ahead.
"First and foremost, it's getting the win. But also an added bonus of saving that 'pen and getting us an extra day of rest is huge. That just plays out through the Series," he said. "So that's huge. Any time a guy can go the distance like that and give the bullpen and extra day of rest, that's big."
In the bullpen, the relievers appreciated the drama of Cueto starting the ninth on its own merits, for what it meant in the game they were playing, what it meant to their teammate.
"He deserves it 100 percent and we're behind him 100 percent," Madson said. "We wanted him to go back out there. We didn't care about the pitch count. We knew the way he was throwing the ball late in the game it didn't matter how many pitches he threw. He was just going to go out there and sink it and change it and just get the guys to roll over or pop it up."
But they also appreciated it on a deeper level, knowing that while nothing can be taken for granted, the rest of the story is that it gives them a little more of an edge for the next three games in New York.
"It's huge," Madson said.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.