NEW YORK -- In the fourth inning of Game 2 of the World Series, Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto threw a first-pitch fastball far enough inside to make Daniel Murphy duck his head, spin out of the way and flash a wry smile. Though Murphy wound up walking in the plate appearance, the episode served to demonstrate both of the ways in which the Royals have attacked him this week.
One has been to bust him inside -- repeatedly, relentlessly. Failing that, the other has been to avoid him altogether.
"He really hasn't gotten too many pitches to hit -- that's the bottom line," Mets hitting coach Kevin Long said. "Pitches are off the plate. Pitches are low. Pitches are high. He's doing what he needs to do. He's taking what they've given him. They haven't given him a whole lot."
When Murphy was performing his Superman act throughout the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series, hitting seven home runs in nine games, much of his damage came on pitches to the middle and outer third of the plate. His home runs against Clayton Kershaw were both on pitches near the center of the strike zone. So was his blast off Jon Lester. Murphy's homers against Zack Greinke and Fernando Rodney were on balls that approached the inner third, but did little more than graze it.
In the World Series, by contrast, the Royals have consistently attacked Murphy inside -- particularly with two strikes. Murphy saw six pitches in his first at-bat of Game 2. The only one not on the inner third was a 1-2 changeup in the dirt.
In total in Game 2, Murphy saw 23 pitches in four plate appearances. None of them touched the middle third of the strike zone.
"I just think that if they execute, it's always going to be a tough at-bat," Murphy said. "I feel like they've executed well. We've gotten some pitches to hit. I've gotten some pitches to hit that I've missed. So we'll regroup and get ready for Game 3."
Murphy's two walks in Game 2 did not seem to bother Cueto much, considering how thoroughly he manhandled the rest of New York's lineup. That's not simply a matter of one elite pitcher enjoying an elite night; in 11 postseason games overall, the Mets are batting a collective .220/.285/.383. Yoenis Cespedes has slumped. Michael Conforto has slumped. Until recently, Lucas Duda had slumped.
So, of course, Cueto was content to attack Murphy on and just off the strike zone's corners, hoping to hit them but not seeming to care much if he missed. Until someone else in New York's lineup makes the Royals pay, expect that trend to continue in Game 3 on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. ET game time) and beyond.
"In the postseason, you face good pitching," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "With that good pitching comes some rough at-bats at times. And they have pitched us very, very well."