Royals

Royals lose control late, fall 5-4 to the Astros in 12 innings

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis tossed his bat after drawing a bases-loaded walk off Kansas City reliever Matt Strahm to score George Springer and win the game against the Royals in 12 innings on Sunday in Houston.
Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis tossed his bat after drawing a bases-loaded walk off Kansas City reliever Matt Strahm to score George Springer and win the game against the Royals in 12 innings on Sunday in Houston. The Associated Press

Exhausted by 12 innings of baseball, burned by a bullpen that could not protect two late leads, Royals manager Ned Yost turned his ire Sunday toward an inanimate object: The short porch in left field at Minute Maid Park.

“I think we were kind of unlucky the whole game,” Yost said. “Both home runs that they hit late wouldn’t have been home runs in any other park in baseball. But unfortunately, we were playing in this park.”

The statement came close to 20 minutes after a 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros, a 12-inning decision that came to an end when reliever Matt Strahm hurled an errant 94 fastball above the strike zone. The bases-loaded walk came on a 3-2 pitch to Evan Gattis. It represented the third bullpen setback of the afternoon.

Left-hander Travis Wood served up a two-run homer to Marwin Gonzalez in the seventh, surrendering a 3-1 lead. Closer Kelvin Herrera couldn’t hold a 4-3 lead in the ninth, allowing a solo shot to Jake Marisnick. Both homers landed in the Crawford Boxes, a porch that juts in from left field and entices hitters with a 315-foot sign down the line.

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In all, the homers had traveled a combined 680 feet — according to MLB’s Statcast projections — and Marisnick’s blast scraped the top of the wall near the foul pole. But as the Royals (2-4) prepared to return home for Monday’s home opener at Kauffman Stadium, the blasts stood as the latest black marks against a bullpen still trying to find itself in this young season.

“It’s one advantage the hitters have here,” Herrera said. “I just executed a pitch. I feel good throwing it. It’s a fly ball anywhere else.”

The Royals finished the weekend with two victories in three games, a performance that salvaged a season-opening road trip. But on Sunday afternoon, they were two outs away from a sweep before Marisnick spoiled Herrera’s first save opportunity of 2017.

“Kelvin made a nice pitch down,” Yost said. “He hooked it right into the Crawford Box. It didn’t even hit the front row. It hit the top of the fence.”

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Before the game stretched for nearly four hours, the Royals had taken control with another display of power. Catcher Salvador Perez clubbed his fourth homer in four games, becoming the first Royals hitter to accomplish that feat since Billy Butler in 2011. Mike Moustakas blasted his third homer of the season.

The Royals staked out a 3-1 lead after six innings as Nathan Karns shook off a shaky first two innings. Karns allowed one run in 5  2/3 innings in his first Royals start. And even after Houston clawed back, the offense seized command again. Hitless in his first 11 at-bats, designated hitter Brandon Moss smashed a solo homer in his 12th time up, delivering a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning.

In all, the Royals have piled up 10 homers in six games. But nine of those have been of the solo variety.

By the end, all the power and solid starting pitching had been wiped out by another series of untimely bullpen struggles. Yost could explain away the stumbles from Wood and Herrera. Yet the latest setback for Strahm loomed as the most concerning.

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Not that Strahm was as bad as his first two outings in Minnesota, when he allowed six earned runs in the Royals’ first two games of the season. But his command issues surfaced for a third straight appearance. Strahm finished with three walks, including an intentional walk to Jose Altuve. In three appearances, he has issued six walks while recording just four outs.

“I just need to get the ball down,” Strahm said. “Every thing was up. I need to figure it out and get it down.”

Strahm had entered the game in the bottom of the 12th. Joakim Soria had tossed scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th. But after Moss’s homer in the ninth, the Royals could not break through against Astros reliever Chris Devenski, who struck out seven over four innings.

Strahm had not pitched since Wednesday. Yost said he was looking for a more low-leverage situation in which to insert him. But by the 12th, he had little choice.

The inning began with an infield chopper from George Springer that nicked off the glove of Strahm and handcuffed Cheslor Cuthbert, who had entered the game at second base after pinch hitting for Raul Mondesi. Cuthbert is still relatively new to the position of second base. And the club had Christian Colon still on the bench. Yet Yost batted away a question about using Colon as a defensive replacement.

“That’s why we played Cuthbert there so much in spring training,” Yost said.

With a man on, Alex Bregman dropped down a sacrifice bunt, and Strahm issued an intentional walk to Altuve. Carlos Correa followed with a fielder’s choice to third base, and Brian McCann worked a 10-pitch walk, setting up the bases-loaded matchup with Gattis.

“He just kept fighting,” Strahm said of McCann. “I couldn’t keep the ball down. When I keep it up, it’s easier for him to get to.”

Against Gattis, Strahm got ahead 0-1 on a curveball before missing with three straight fastballs. Gattis fouled off another fastball to run the count full. On the final pitch of the game, Strahm missed high again.

As the Astros celebrated, Strahm screamed into this glove. In the moments after the loss, he said he needed to fix the mechanical issue.

“I got to figure out what I’m doing when I’m leaving it up,” he said.

The final innings Sunday ruined what was almost a perfect weekend in Houston. But after a long and monotonous spring training, after three losses in Minnesota and a series victory over the Astros, the Royals will return Monday to Kauffman Stadium and open an eight-game home stand against the Oakland Athletics.

The bullpen has been the nemesis in four losses. The club can start to fix the problem in the comforts of home, where there are no Crawford Boxes or short porches.

“It didn’t bounce our way,” Yost said.

Astros 5, Royals 4, 12 innings

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Gordon lf

5

0

2

0

0

0

.240

Moustakas 3b

5

1

2

1

0

1

.348

Cain cf

5

0

0

0

0

3

.200

Hosmer 1b

5

0

1

0

0

1

.200

Perez c

5

1

1

1

0

2

.292

Moss dh

5

1

1

1

0

3

.077

Orlando rf

4

1

1

0

0

2

.143

Escobar ss

5

0

1

0

0

2

.190

Mondesi 2b

3

0

0

1

0

2

.111

Cuthbert ph-2b

1

0

0

0

0

1

.286

Totals

43

4

9

4

0

17

Houston

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Springer cf-rf

6

2

2

1

0

2

.250

Bregman 3b

5

0

0

0

0

1

.167

Altuve 2b

5

0

2

0

1

0

.200

Correa ss

5

0

2

0

0

0

.240

McCann c

4

0

1

0

2

1

.278

Gattis dh

3

1

2

1

3

0

.357

Reddick rf

1

0

1

0

1

0

.278

Gurriel ph-1b

3

0

0

0

0

0

.095

Gonzalez 1b-lf

4

1

1

2

1

2

.333

Aoki lf

2

0

0

0

0

0

.250

Beltran ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.280

Marisnick cf

2

1

1

1

0

1

.222

Totals

41

5

12

5

8

7

Kansas City

010

011

001

000

4

9

0

Houston

100

000

201

001

5

12

0

Two outs when winning run scored.

LOB: Kansas City 5, Houston 11. HR: Perez (4), off McCullers; Moustakas (3), off McCullers; Moss (1), off Devenski; Springer (4), off Karns; Gonzalez (3), off Wood; Marisnick (1), off Herrera. RBIs: Moustakas (3), Perez (4), Moss (1), Mondesi (1), Springer (8), Gattis (1), Gonzalez 2 (6), Marisnick (1). SB: Altuve (1). CS: Reddick (1). S: Mondesi, Bregman.

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 1 (Gordon); Houston 3 (Springer, Gurriel 2). RISP: Kansas City 0 for 1; Houston 2 for 6. Runners moved up: Aoki. GIDP: McCann, Aoki.

DP: Kansas City 3 (Perez, Escobar), (Mondesi, Hosmer), (Soria, Escobar, Hosmer).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Karns

5 2/3

6

1

1

2

3

86

7.11

Wood

1

1

2

2

1

0

25

18.00

Young

1 1/3

2

0

0

1

1

18

0.00

Herrera

1

1

1

1

0

1

15

4.50

Soria

2

1

0

0

1

2

27

0.00

Strahm L, 0-2

 2/3

1

1

1

3

0

22

47.25

Houston

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

McCullers

7

6

3

3

0

10

99

2.77

Harris

1

0

0

0

0

0

7

0.00

Devenski W, 1-0

4

3

1

1

0

7

60

1.12

Inherited runners-scored: Wood 1-0. HBP: Karns (Correa), McCullers (Orlando). WP: Wood. Umpires: Home, Chad Fairchild; First, Dave Rackley; Second, Larry Vanover; Third, Alfonso Marquez. Time: 3:49. Att: 32,411.

Home opener

Who: Royals vs. Oakland A’s

When: First pitch is 3:15 p.m. Monday. The Truman Sports Complex will open at 9 a.m. for tailgaters and gates will open at 1 p.m.

TV/radio: FSKC, KCSP (610 AM)

Pregame: There will be a tribute to Yordano Ventura, who died in January. His mother, Marisol Hernandez, will throw out the first pitch. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats at 2:30 p.m.

Inside: A look at some of the things fans can eat this year at Kauffman Stadium. 4B

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