A well-placed grounder, which turned into a game-winning double, arrived too late Friday night to end James Shields’ run of tough luck, but the Royals ran their winning streak to three with a 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
“I feel like our luck has turned,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “I feel like we’re getting some breaks and making some really good plays defensively. Things are going our way right now.”
It was Butler who yanked a one-out RBI grounder past third in the eighth inning that produced the go-ahead run. David Lough, who earlier turned in the game’s top defensive play, later added an RBI double.
And with that, like a slot machine’s bells jangling, the Royals had reached their magical four-run threshold. The Royals are now 19-5 when they score at least four runs.
“As an offense we’re starting to put up some runs and get some timely hits,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
“We can still do a better job of getting out a little earlier and putting up some runs, but we’ll take a win any way we can get one.”
When Greg Holland closed out the victory for his 11th save in 13 chances, the Royals, 26-32 overall, had their first three-game winning streak since a four-game run from April 30 to May 5.
The two-run eighth, which came against Astros relievers Wesley Wright, 0-2, and Josh Fields, simply came too late to reward Shields for his continued excellence.
The victory, instead, went to Kelvin Herrera, 3-4, who inherited a 2-2 tie from Shields to start the eighth inning.
“It’s a good overall win,” Shields said. “We’re scrapping. I think we’re starting to hit better now, and we’re scoring some runs, so it’s good to see.”
After Herrera worked a one-two-three eighth inning, the Astros went to their bullpen for Wright in relief of Jordan Lyles.
Hosmer won a left-on-left battle against Wright by looping a leadoff single into center. That prompted another Houston pitching switch — to Fields, who retired Salvy Perez on a foul pop to first.
“Leading off that inning I just wanted to get on base,” Hosmer said. “Between Salvy, Billy and (Lorenzo) Cain — one of them is bound to hit one in the gap.
“That was Billy being Billy right there, coming through with the big knock for us.”
Butler yanked an 0-2 fastball past third for an RBI double and a 3-2 lead. Hosmer scored from first as the ball slowed once it got through the infield.
“He tried to come in on me and I reacted to it, and got it down the line,” Butler said. “It’s all about where you hit it. It was a part of the field where you can stretch some plays.”
Elliot Johnson replaced Butler as a pinch-runner and went to third on Cain’s grounder to second before Lough served an RBI double into short left-center field.
“It was a first-pitch fastball up,” Lough said. “I just tried to stay on top of it as much as I could. It was a little flare out in left field. I really didn’t hit it too hard, but it was able to get down.”
That was plenty for Holland.
The Royals had Shields positioned for a victory. They led 2-1 when Marwin Gonzalez, who had earlier grounded into two inning-ending double plays, opened the seventh with a single to right.
A wild pitch moved Gonzalez to second. Shields struck out Brandon Barnes before Gonzalez moved to third on Trevor Crowe’s grounder to second.
Shields had scrambled out of several jams, but not this one. Jason Castro pumped a 2-2 fastball into the right-center gap for a game-tying double. The ball hadn’t even touched down when Shields whipped his arm in frustration.
“I was trying to go inside with the fastball,” Shields said. “I hadn’t thrown the fastball the whole entire AB right there. I think I was just trying to do too much, and I left it over the heart of the plate.
“I think if I throw a change-up or curveball there, I might get a ground ball or something like that.”
The Astros had Shields in trouble all night but finished two for 15 with runners in scoring position.
“Today was a grind day,” he said.
“I think I was in trouble almost every inning but one. We had some unbelievable plays on defense. It was a good game overall, and I’m glad we got the win.”
What else matters?