The best thing said about the Royals in their three days at Minute Maid Park is it could have been worse. But for a late rally Tuesday, they might have suffered a sweep against the American League’s worst club.
It was bad enough, though.
The Royals sent their ace to the mound in Wednesday’s finale and, as usually happens when James Shields pitches, their attack turtled and resulted in a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros.
Shields gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to J.D. Martinez, and it was sufficient to send him to his fifth loss in seven decisions despite a 2.47 ERA. He struck out seven and walked none in seven innings.
“We’re going to get some wins,” Shields said. “That’s what I feel my job is to do here, and it’s just not happening right now. These guys are going to pick me up.
“These guys are great. They’ve been grinding every day, and we’re going though a little struggle right now. But our heads are high, and we’re staying positive. It is a long season. By all means, we’re not out of it.”
Houston got its final run in the eighth inning against reliever Kelvin Herrera on Jason Castro’s two-out RBI double over the head of right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
“I moved up when (Herrera) got to 1-2 with him and a runner at second,” Francoeur said. “I didn’t want another runner to score. I moved in two or three to have a (better) chance to throw him out at the plate.
“Lo and behold, he hit it there.”
The Royals’ offensive futility peaked earlier in the eighth after Chris Getz led off by working a walk from Travis Blackley, who had pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of starter Jordan Lyles.
That brought Hector Ambriz into the game to face Alcides Escobar, who failed to execute a sacrifice bunt. Getz then got himself trapped between first and second when catcher Jason Castro dug out an 0-2 pitch in the dirt.
“His knees went down,” Getz said, “and I got out there — and then I was stuck. I was just overly aggressive because in a situation like that, when you see the catcher’s knees go down, that’s a sign, obviously, of a ball in the dirt.
“I was just floating out there and, before you know it, I was in no-man’s land. I’m a good base-runner. I just made a mistake there.”
Ambriz retired the next two hitters before Jose Veras, armed with a two-run cushion, closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth for his eighth save in 10 chances.
Lyles, 2-1, limited the Royals to one run and six hits in six innings before handing a 2-1 lead to Blackley. Lyles struck out three and walked one.
“He was pretty good,” manager Ned Yost said. “He didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. And when he did, we didn’t do anything with it.”
The loss completed a 3-6 road trip that began with two victories in three games at Los Angeles before suffering three one-run losses in Oakland.
Time to make changes?
“I don’t even talk about things like that after a game like this,” Yost said. “You’re emotional. Things like that have to be well thought out. And the thought process, especially after a game like that, isn’t real trustworthy.”
The Royals also dipped back below .500 at 21-22 as they now head home for six games — four against the Angels before the I-70 Series resumes Monday with the first of four games against Cardinals — the latter two in St. Louis.
Wednesday’s game pretty much summed up Shields’ season. He has nine quality starts in his 10 outings, but the Royals are averaging just six runs in his five losses.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Yost admitted, “especially when James Shields goes out and gives you the performance he gives you just about every time out. We just haven’t done a good job of run support for him at all.”
Alex Gordon extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the first inning when he lined a two-out single into center. Billy Butler then grounded a 3-0 pitch to short, which resulted in a force at second.
The Astros then stung Shields for two runs. Castro flicked a two-out single into center, and Martinez followed by rifling a 2-2 slider into the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
“I was trying to go inside to him right there and left it over the plate,” Shields said. “He put a good swing on it Those things are going to happen.
“The at-bat before with Castro, he threw his bat at it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”
Francoeur opened the third with a triple onto the incline in center field known as Tal’s Hill (after former club president Tal Smith, who imported the idea from the terrace at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati).
George Kottaras followed with an RBI double into the left-center gap. Kottaras moved to third on Getz’s slow grounder to second, which prompted the Astros to shorten their infield.
Escobar couldn’t take advantage. His grounder to third forced Kottaras to hold. Lyles walked Gordon on four pitches but won an 11-pitch battle with Butler with a strikeout on a slider that dived out of the zone.
“Not a real good road trip,” Francoeur said. “We all need to get home. Hopefully, we can come in (Thursday) and start hitting and start winning ballgames.
“Our lineup is not doing a great job right now of producing runs. It’s something we’ve talked about, and we need to do a better job.”