Johnny Cueto shines in Game 5 as Royals advance past Astros to the ALCS

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

It’ll be the Kansas City Royals doing battle with the Toronto Blue Jays in this year’s American League Championship Series.

Johnny Cueto turned in a vintage-yet-surprising performance in Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday night in Kansas City, holding the visiting Astros to two runs over eight innings as the Royals marched to a 7-2 victory and advanced to the best-of-seven ALCS.

Cueto gave up a two-run homer to Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena in the top of the second inning but he was otherwise brilliant, whiffing eight, walking none, and retiring the final 19 batters he faced. This from a guy who posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 81 1/3 innings after being acquired from the Reds in July. He also got bashed for four runs in six innings by the Astros three games earlier in the best-of-five Division Series.

Houston starter Collin McHugh looked strong in the early going on Wednesday, but Eric Hosmer drove in Lorenzo Cain in the bottom of the fourth inning when Carlos Gomez slipped in center field and Alex Rios smacked a go-ahead two-run double in the bottom of the fifth. Ben Zobrist then added the Royals’ fourth run on a sacrifice fly that scored Rios from third. Zobrist, a deadline acquisition like Cueto, also made a terrific tracking-back catch at second base in the top of the eighth.

Kansas City wasn’t done making bold statements yet, with Kendrys Morales adding three more runs on a towering blast against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel in the bottom of the eighth.

Cueto probably could have finished it off himself — he only needed 91 pitches to get through eight — but Royals manager Ned Yost turned to dominant right-hander Wade Davis in the top of the ninth and the newly-anointed closer retired all three batters he faced.

Our prediction for this upcoming ALCS: lots and lots of blue.

MLB, union resume blood testing after pandemic, lockout

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK – In the first acknowledgment that MLB and the players’ association resumed blood testing for human growth hormone, the organizations said none of the 1,027 samples taken during the 2022 season tested positive.

HGH testing stopped in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Testing also was halted during the 99-day lockout that ended in mid-March, and there were supply chain issues due to COVID-19 and additional caution in testing due to coronavirus protocols.

The annual public report is issued by Thomas M. Martin, independent program administrator of MLB’s joint drug prevention and treatment program. In an announcement accompanying Thursday’s report, MLB and the union said test processing is moving form the INRS Laboratory in Quebec, Canada, to the UCLA Laboratory in California.

MLB tests for HGH using dried blood spot testing, which was a change that was agreed to during bargaining last winter. There were far fewer samples taken in 2022 compared to 2019, when there were 2,287 samples were collected – none positive.

Beyond HGH testing, 9,011 urine samples were collected in the year ending with the 2022 World Series, up from 8,436 in the previous year but down from 9,332 in 2019. And therapeutic use exemptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder dropped for the ninth straight year, with just 72 exemptions in 2022.

Overall, the league issued six suspensions in 2022 for performance-enhancing substances: three for Boldenone (outfielder/first baseman Danny Santana, pitcher Richard Rodriguez and infielder Jose Rondon, all free agents, for 80 games apiece); one each for Clomiphene (Milwaukee catcher Pedro Severino for 80 games), Clostebol (San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for 80 games) and Stanozolol (Milwaukee pitcher J.C. Mejia for 80 games).

There was an additional positive test for the banned stimulant Clobenzorex. A first positive test for a banned stimulant results in follow-up testing with no suspension.