KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jacob deGrom held his glove in front of his face, his signature locks streaming from the sides of his baseball cap. Then, as he's done throughout his ascent as one of the best pitchers in the game, he rocked into his flowing delivery and unleashed fire.
But last night was different. Over and over, in Game 2 of the World Series, deGrom searched for the sharpness that has made him an ace. The Royals did not blink. True to form, in a 7-1 victory that will force the Mets to recapture history, the Royals pelted deGrom into submission. "You've still got to win four," deGrom said. "We're going home. We like playing there. So, hopefully we can win three there."
The Royals turned Kauffman Stadium into the World's Largest Outdoor Pinball Machine. The hardest team to strike out in baseball swung and missed just three times against deGrom, who was chased after allowing four runs in five innings. "I just think they've outplayed us," Mets captain David Wright said. "It's as simple as that."
In two games, the Mets' greatest flaws have been exposed. Their range-deprived defense has been reduced to Swiss cheese, with the Royals finding plenty of holes. And if the Mets' young pitching isn't out of gas at the end of a grueling season -- as pitching coach Dan Warthen insists -- they have shown signs that the fuel light might have come on.
"I still think we're going to win this thing," Warthen said. "I don't think they've hit the wall at all."
For the Mets to reach the Canyon of Heroes, they must walk the same treacherous path of the 1986 team, which overcame a 2-0 deficit to win the franchise's last championship. The Royals did the same in 1985, their last World Series.
When presented with those precedents, Wright said simply, "let's do it."
That means the offense must regain its form after being suffocated by Johnny Cueto, who retired 16 of the final 17 he faced in a complete game. Cueto held the Mets to two hits. Not since Greg Maddux in 1995 had a pitcher logged at least nine innings and allowed no more than two hits in the World Series.
"All the windups, all the different deliveries, it throws your timing off," manager Terry Collins.
For the first time this postseason, the Mets went without a homer. For the second straight night, their at-bats looked more feeble as the game wore on.
"I don't really feel we're too far off," hitting coach Kevin Long said.
In the first two games of the World Series, the Mets have started Matt Harvey and deGrom. The Mets lost twice. In Game 3 Friday night at Citi Field, the onus falls on rookie Noah Syndergaard to preserve any realistic chances for the Mets to win a championship.
"We win because we ride our starting pitching," Collins said. "When they struggle, we're going to struggle, and that's what's happened."
In Game 1, Harvey was pulled after surrendering three runs in six innings. He had thrown just 80 pitches but admitted that he lacked his best stuff. His fastball averaged below 94 mph for only the third time in his career. He managed only seven swings and misses, a testament to the Royals' supreme contact abilities.
In Game 2, deGrom encountered a similar buzz saw. Seldom has he looked overmatched. He allowed just one hit through four innings before the Royals turned the screws, punishing deGrom for fastball command that faded.
As the skies cracked with intermittent rain, the brilliant righthander was chased amid a deluge of hits. He allowed four runs, all in the fifth inning.
"I felt like my stuff was good," said deGrom, who struck out only two and walked three. "I wasn't locating very well."
The Royals pounded him for five hits in the fifth. Alcides Escobar's single to center tied the score at 1. Two batters later, Eric Hosmer singled up the middle to knock in two more. Mike Moustakas capped the outburst with a single past a diving Daniel Murphy at second base.
In his first postseason start, deGrom struck out 13 Dodgers, tying Tom Seaver's franchise record. Against the Royals, deGrom tallied just three swings and misses all game, none against fastballs.
"I wasn't really surprised by it because we knew that going in," deGrom said. "Early on, pitch count was staying pretty low because I knew they were going to be attacking."
Yes, the Royals rarely strike out and they rarely swing and miss. And the Mets knew it was coming. But once again, one of the brightest arms in all of baseball proved powerless to stop it.
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