Royals

Moustakas clubs walk-off homer as Royals stop Astros’ winning streak at 11

Mike Moustakas: 'I put a good swing on it'

Mike Moustakas' walk-off homer lifted the Royals to a 9-7 victory on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.
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Mike Moustakas' walk-off homer lifted the Royals to a 9-7 victory on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.

The most epic comeback of this Royals season is Alex Gordon stumbling and tripping and face-planting across home plate in the eighth inning Tuesday night. It is second baseman Whit Merrifield ripping a bases-loaded, game-tying double to left field off Astros closer Ken Giles. It is Mike Moustakas, extinguishing the longest winning streak in baseball with a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.

It is all these moments, coalescing in a 9-7 victory Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals coming back from six runs down and ending the Astros’ winning streak at 11 games, the celebration spilling out onto the infield grass. Houston had not lost when leading by four or more runs entering the eighth inning since Game 4 of the 2015 American League Division Series. Yes, that game.

Moustakas reveled in a Gatorade bath. The bullpen received plaudits for its work. And yet, in the moments after the victory, there was Gordon, the struggling former All-Star, savoring a win after snapping a home-run drought that had stretched to 192 at-bats, smiling big and laughing after the least graceful run you have seen in weeks.

“OK, I’ll explain what happened,” Gordon said, allowing a sly smile inside a victorious clubhouse.

The moment came in the bottom of the eighth. The Royals trailed 7-4, with the bases loaded after a Gordon walk. Merrifield was hanging tough against Giles, the closer who can touch 100 mph and dominate opponents with a nasty slider.

Merrifield was looking for a mistake, he would say. He got one in the form of a hanging breaking ball, roping a double to the wall in left field. Gordon was off to the races, circling around second and digging around third and expecting a close play at home. Except the play was not close. Cheslor Cuthbert and Moustakas threw their hands up, the universal signal to stay upright. And now Gordon was caught, five awkward steps toward home before he touched the plate and crashed face-first into the dirt.

“I tried to brace myself,” he said. “But then I started swimming, and the only thing I cared about was touching home plate. That’s what happened. It doesn’t matter how it looked.”

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon hit his first homer of the season on Tuesday night.

The three-run double tied the game at 7-7, the Royals coming all the way back after trailing 7-1 after 4  1/2 innings. The four-run rally in the eighth set up the walk-off heroics from Moustakas in the ninth.

With a man on first and two out, Moustakas put a barrel on a slider from Giles, launching his 15th homer into the Kansas City night, the baseball landing 418 feet from home plate.

“That guy throws hard,” Moustakas said. “I was kind of looking for something out over the plate and caught a slider out there and put a good swing on it.”

In some ways, of course, the victory seemed to come from nowhere. The Royals (25-32) were facing baseball’s best team. They were starting a rookie pitcher in Jakob Junis, who was tagged for seven runs. They trailed 7-1 after the Astros (42-17) piled up four runs in the fourth inning.

On Tuesday afternoon, in the hours before another bout with the American League’s most incendiary offense, Royals manager Ned Yost sat inside the dugout at Kauffman Stadium and tried to explain the dangers of playing the Astros.

The night before, he had witnessed the relentless nature of the Astros’ attack. In a few hours, he would watch the Royals take a another shot and rise up from the mat, erasing a six-run deficit. They were staggered and bloodied and armed with a rookie starter against a team that had won 11 straight. And yet, Yost felt strangely calm.

“We didn’t feel like we were out of the game,” he said. “Guys were continuing to battle. Guys were continuing to compete offensively. You just had a good feeling about it.”

To play against the Astros, to pitch against their torrid bats and maneuver through their stacked lineup, can be akin to going 12 rounds with a heavyweight champion, Yost said. The punches come in flurries, he said, every body shot taking its toll.

“Last night, it felt like a boxing match,” Yost said. “We came out in the second round, and they kind of knocked us back a little bit. We were dazed … and they knocked us back again.

“We just kept battling until the ninth inning, where they mixed in a hard right that we didn’t see coming and, boom, the game’s over.”

This time, the Royals weathered the onslaught and fought back. This time, little by little, the comeback began. Gordon would crushed a solo homer to deep center field against Astros starter David Paulino in the bottom of the third, slicing the lead to 3-1. It was his first homer since Sept. 25, 2016, a drought that stretched 192 at-bats and the first 50 games of his 2017 season.

In the moments after the homer, the Royals’ dugout remained perfectly still, intentionally ignoring the meaning of the blast. Gordon shook his head, smiling as he screamed back at his teammates and breezed toward the dugout tunnel. It was the most satisfying — and humorous — slight he had received in weeks.

“He threw a fastball in my spot, down and in,” Gordon said. “I put a good swing on it and came in the dugout and kind of got big-leagued by all my teammates. I kind of knew that was going to happen.”

From there, the comeback took shape. The Royals added another run in the fourth and a third in the sixth. In the eighth, they exploded for four against one of the best bullpens in the American League.

The victory would come in the ninth. But the enduring image remained in the eighth. There was Gordon, tumbling past home, tying the score at 7-7. There were the Royals, avoiding a third straight loss and securing a victory infused with grit and resolve.

“Hopefully we can build,” Merrifield said. “We’ve had situations like this before and haven’t quite been able to build momentum and carry on into the rest of the series.”

Royals 9, Astros 7

Astros

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Springer cf-rf

5

2

2

0

0

0

.281

Reddick rf-lf

5

2

3

1

0

0

.273

Altuve 2b

3

0

1

1

1

1

.326

Correa ss

4

1

2

1

1

1

.314

Beltran dh

5

2

1

2

0

3

.249

Gattis c

4

0

1

0

1

1

.275

Gurriel 1b

5

0

3

2

0

0

.277

Bregman 3b

5

0

0

0

0

0

.247

Aoki lf

4

0

1

0

0

0

.258

Marisnick cf

0

0

0

0

0

0

.250

Totals

40

7

14

7

3

6

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

5

0

2

3

0

0

.299

Bonifacio rf

4

0

0

0

1

4

.277

Cain cf

5

0

0

0

0

1

.261

Hosmer 1b

5

2

3

0

0

1

.315

Perez c

4

2

3

1

0

0

.264

Moustakas dh

5

2

4

3

0

0

.275

Cuthbert 3b

4

1

1

1

0

0

.186

Escobar ss

4

0

0

0

0

2

.177

Gordon lf

3

2

1

1

1

1

.177

Totals

39

9

14

9

2

9

Astros

003

400

000

7

14

1

Royals

001

101

042

9

14

0

Two outs when winning run scored.

E: Gattis (4). LOB: Houston 10, Kansas City 7. 2B: Springer (9), Reddick (10), Gattis (9), Merrifield 2 (6), Hosmer 2 (14), Perez (9), Moustakas (10). HR: Beltran (8), off Junis; Gordon (1), off Paulino; Moustakas (15), off Giles. RBIs: Reddick (23), Altuve (29), Correa (40), Beltran 2 (24), Gurriel 2 (27), Merrifield 3 (18), Perez (32), Moustakas 3 (32), Cuthbert (7), Gordon (11). SB: Reddick (3), Gurriel (1). SF: Altuve.

Runners left in scoring position: Houston 6 (Correa, Beltran 2, Bregman 2, Aoki); Kansas City 5 (Bonifacio, Cain, Cuthbert 2, Gordon). RISP: Houston 3 for 13; Kansas City 4 for 13. Runners moved up: Correa. GIDP: Perez. DP: Houston 1 (Correa, Altuve, Gurriel).

Astros

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Paulino

5.2

8

3

3

1

4

89

4.66

Devenski

1.1

0

0

0

0

2

21

2.57

Guduan

0.1

2

2

2

0

1

15

9.00

Hoyt

0.1

1

2

2

1

1

17

4.08

Giles L, 1-2

1

3

2

2

0

1

15

4.24

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Junis

3.2

9

7

7

3

1

79

7.84

McCarthy

2.1

2

0

0

0

2

30

0.00

Wood

2

2

0

0

0

2

25

8.44

Minor W, 3-1

1

1

0

0

0

1

18

2.12

Holds: Devenski (8), Hoyt (6). Blown save: Giles (2). Inherited runners-scored: Devenski 2-0, Hoyt 2-1, Giles 3-3. WP: Junis.

Umpires: Home, Laz Diaz; First, Doug Eddings; Second, Cory Blaser; Third, Jeff Nelson. Time: 3:10. Att: 20,974.

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