The Royals and Astros will be spending their October days in very different ways, but on Friday night, the two locked in a tight battle at Kauffman Stadium.
Houston, which has a comfortable lead in the American League West, beat the Royals 4-1 on a three-run home run by right fielder George Springer in the ninth inning.
But the Royals, 55-93, aren’t going gently into that good night as they attempt to avoid what seems to be an inevitable second straight 100-loss season. And while none of the boys in blue raged against the dying of the light Friday, they were clearly angered by plate umpire Lance Barrett.
Trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning against Astros starter Gerrit Cole, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon showed his displeasure at a called third strike by dropping his bat at the plate.
When the inning ended, Royals manager Ned Yost came out to discuss the situation with Barrett and was ejected for the fourth time this season. Gordon also was tossed at the inning break, just the second time in his career he’s been ejected.
“(Barrett) told me he didn’t want to discuss balls and strikes, and I told him I don’t really blame him, I wouldn’t want to either if I was having his type of night,” Yost said. “But it’s just one of those things. I like Lance Barrett, I think he’s a good umpire. I just think he had a rough night.”
Gordon’s other ejection came in 2011. He wasn’t sure what led to Friday’s heave-ho.
“I don’t know. I said something in the dugout after the inning,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t much. I didn’t cuss at him. I just said one thing and he threw me out. I didn’t think I should have been thrown out, but I probably shouldn’t have said what I said. It was just the way the game was going.”
Perhaps sparked by the confrontation, the Royals tied the game the following inning.
Center fielder Bubba Starling shattered his bat on a single to left field, stole second and took third on an errant throw by Astros catcher Martin Maldonado. Royals catcher Meibrys Viloria followed with a fly ball to center that scored Starling to tie it 1-1.
The Astros struck back immediately in the ninth inning against Heath Fillmyer. Kyle Tucker singled with one out and Michael Brantley walked. After Josh Reddick struck out, Springer crushed a pitch to left-center field to make it 4-1. The home run was estimated at 433 feet.
Early on, it didn’t look to be a close game.
Royals starter Danny Duffy struggled through the first two innings, allowing a run on two hits and two walks. By then, he had thrown 54 pitches and it seemed likely the Royals bullpen would be called upon sooner than later.
Instead, Duffy managed to get through six innings, allowing just a first-inning solo home run to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, the second batter of the game.
It was Duffy’s second straight start of allowing one run in six innings pitched, the first time he’s allowed just two runs in consecutive outings.
“It was just a typical grind-through-it night,” Duffy said. “I’ve had two of those starts in a row. We were able to give my team 18 outs. I left everything out there.”
In his third start since coming off the injured list, Duffy has a 2.45 ERA and has held opponents to a .197 average.
Unfortunately for Duffy and the Royals, Cole showed why he is Houston’s ace. Well, one of the Astros’ aces; they also have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke in their rotation.
Cole struck out 11 and increased his season total to 292. He gave up four hits (two by Starling) and the unearned run.
The Royals, who have won their last four series, will have their work cut out if they want to make it five. Greinke, the former Royals star, will start Saturday.