Royals

Astros tag Royals closer Kelvin Herrera for four runs in 6-1 victory

Kelvin Herrera: 'That was a poor job by me'

Kelvin Herrera took the loss after a rough ninth inning against the Astros on Thursday night.
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Kelvin Herrera took the loss after a rough ninth inning against the Astros on Thursday night.

The secondary pitches in Kelvin Herrera’s repertoire have prompted an uneven first year as the Royals’ closer. So on Thursday, as the reigning American League batting champion stood in the right-handed box, Herrera returned to the top weapon in his arsenal.

A 95-mile-per-hour fastball.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was ready.

Altuve re-directed the pitch into the centerfield seats, a ninth-inning blast to spark Houston’s 6-1 victory in the series finale in front of 32,747 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

“Poor execution in the pitch,” Herrera said. “Got a lot of problems when I miss location there.”

After entering in a tie game, Herrera was credited with his second loss. He gave up four runs, including his seventh homer allowed this season. His earned run average ballooned to 5.55.

The ninth-inning blowout — which materialized only two innings after the Royals drew even — overshadowed the pair of dazzling outings that preceded it.

Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. did not allow a hit until Lorenzo Cain tripled in the seventh inning, and right-hander Jason Hammel turned in unquestionably his top outing in a Royals uniform. Each starter lasted seven innings, allowing just one run.

“Everything kind of melds together, but that’s as good of a game as we’ve been a part of in awhile,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Both teams were pitching superbly. Defense was good. It was just a great game until the ninth inning kind of caved in on us.”

Here’s how it unraveled: Herrera opened the ninth by walking outfielder Josh Reddick on just four pitches. That provided Altuve some company on his trot around the bases in the next at-bat. Cleanup hitter Carlos Correra tripled as the next hitter, and after a sacrifice fly and a single, Herrera’s evening was done.

The pitching was really good beforehand.

The starters traded five zeroes before a balk blemished the scoreboard. Hammel attempted to fire a pickoff move to first base but fumbled the ball in his glove on the exchange. The balk was called immediately, and former Royal Nori Aoki trotted home for the first run.

“I’ve done that pick a thousand times, and I’ve never done that,” Hammel said. “Kinda sausage-fingered it and didn’t get the hand all the way into the glove.

“Sure enough, that was the run.”

It lingered as the only mishap in Hammel’s evening. He lasted seven innings and allowed only four baserunners. It matched his longest outing in his first season with the Royals. He pleaded to extend it another inning but was overruled by the coaching staff. It turned instead to right-hander Joakim Soria, who struck out all three batters his faced in the eighth.

But McCullers was even better. A day after Houston ace Dallas Keuchel was scratched from his start, the Royals couldn’t escape McCullers on Thursday.

He took a no-hitter into the seventh before Cain sent a 3-0 pitch into the left centerfield gap that he turned a one-out triple in the seventh. After McCullers used his curveball to entice a third-strike swing from Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas ripped a two-out single through the right side of the infield to tie the game.

“Once I got to second, I just turned it on and said, ‘Why not?’ ” Cain said. “(McCullers) was very nasty tonight, so why not take a chance?”

Even after laboring through that seventh inning, McCullers finished with just 91 pitches. He allowed only two hits and two walks. He struck out eight, most of them with his defining quickly-dropping curveball, a pitch in his repertoire he throws nearly half of the time, and an improving change-up.

“From the fifth inning on, (with) McCullers’ breaking ball and change-up, you start thinking, man, this is going to be a tough one here,” Yost said. “We gotta at least try to find a way to get a hit.”

That was enough to prompt Cain to swing away on the 3-0 pitch, something he estimated he has only done a couple of times in his career.

It sparked a big hit. Altuve responded with an even bigger one off the closer.

“Kel was just flat today. He struggled to command his pitches early and then got a pitch up to Altuve,” Yost said. “He’s a strong guy.”

Astros 6, Royals 1

Astros

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Springer cf-rf

5

0

0

0

0

3

.275

Reddick rf-lf

4

1

1

0

1

2

.270

Altuve 2b

4

1

1

2

0

0

.325

Correa ss

4

1

1

0

0

1

.306

McCann c

3

0

1

1

0

0

.272

Gattis dh

4

1

1

0

0

0

.274

Gurriel 1b

4

1

1

0

0

0

.275

Bregman 3b

3

0

1

0

1

1

.250

Aoki lf

3

1

1

0

0

1

.260

Marisnick cf

1

0

1

2

0

0

.259

Totals

35

6

9

5

2

8

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.288

Bonifacio rf

3

0

0

0

1

1

.270

Cain cf

4

1

1

0

0

0

.262

Hosmer 1b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.304

Moustakas 3b

3

0

1

1

0

2

.271

Moss dh

3

0

0

0

0

1

.184

Gordon lf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.174

Escobar ss

2

0

0

0

1

1

.181

Butera c

3

0

1

0

0

1

.245

Totals

29

1

3

1

2

10

Astros

000

001

005

6

9

0

Royals

000

000

100

1

3

0

LOB: Houston 5, Kansas City 3. 2B: McCann (5), Gurriel (12). 3B: Correa (1), Cain (2). HR: Altuve (9), off Herrera. RBIs: Altuve 2 (31), McCann (30), Marisnick 2 (13), Moustakas (33). SF: McCann.

Runners left in scoring position: Houston 4 (Reddick 2, Correa, Gurriel); Kansas City 1 (Moss). RISP: Houston 1 for 9; Kansas City 1 for 3. Runners moved up: Aoki, Springer. GIDP: Cain. DP: Houston 1 (Correa, Altuve, Gurriel).

Astros

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

McCullers

7

2

1

1

2

8

91

2.58

Harris W, 2-1

1

1

0

0

0

2

15

2.13

Devenski

1

0

0

0

0

0

8

2.50

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Hammel

7

4

1

1

0

4

85

5.43

Soria

1

0

0

0

0

3

17

3.55

Herrera L, 1-2

0.1

3

4

4

1

0

16

5.55

Moylan

0.2

2

1

1

1

1

19

7.52

Inherited runners-scored: Moylan 1-1. WP: McCullers.

Umpires: Home, Cory Blaser; First, Jeff Nelson; Second, Laz Diaz; Third, Doug Eddings. Time: 2:39. Att: 32,747.

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