Royals

Houston Astros beat Royals 6-5 to sweep three-game series

The Astro’ Jose Altuve slided past the tag from Royals catcher Salvador Perez to score from third base on a fielder’s choice by Chris Carter in the seventh inning Wednesday night in Houston. The Astros beat the Royals 6-5 to sweep the three-game series.
The Astro’ Jose Altuve slided past the tag from Royals catcher Salvador Perez to score from third base on a fielder’s choice by Chris Carter in the seventh inning Wednesday night in Houston. The Astros beat the Royals 6-5 to sweep the three-game series. The Associated Press

Jose Altuve stretched his left hand toward the plate and Salvador Perez stretched his left arm toward his childhood friend. They grew up playing together on youth teams in Venezuela. Now, at the game’s highest level, a matter of inches and milliseconds separated them from agony and ecstasy.

“It was pretty close,” Perez said. “Pretty close. I don’t know.”

The deciding play in a 6-5 Royals loss to the Houston Astros occurred in an instant. But both clubs waited four minutes and 10 seconds for a replay review in New York to confirm the call at Minute Maid Park: Altuve was safe, a seventh-inning comeback from Kansas City was for naught, and a sweep by the Astros was imminent.

Altuve served as a mite-sized thorn in the side of the Royals. He reached base in all four at-bats on Wednesday. He accepted first base in the bottom of the seventh, just moments after Jarrod Dyson tied this game with a two-run triple, when reliever Kelvin Herrera hit him with a pitch. Altuve stole second, advanced to third on a grounder and scored on another grounder.

The grounder bounced off the bat of Astros infielder Luis Valbuena. Mike Moustakas fielded it. Unable to turn two, he threw home. Perez swept a tag low and caught a swatch of Altuve’s jersey. It was up to the umpires and the replay officials to make a ruling.

“I couldn’t tell, from where we were sitting,” manager Ned Yost said.

Inside the video room in the Royals clubhouse, advance scouting coordinator Bill Duplissea slowed the footage down. In some frames, Altuve appeared to be safe. In others, Perez appeared to touch Altuve before Altuve touched the plate.

“On a play like that, they maybe stay with what the umpires say first,” Perez said. “They don’t want to change it, because if they do, the umpires are going to look bad, and everything. That’s what I think. But it was pretty close.”

The decision did not favor Kansas City (44-31). Little did in this series. They will exit Houston still carrying the highest winning percentage in the American League. But the Astros announced themselves as a formidable challenger.

During the first two nights here, Houston bullied their guests with power pitching from rookie Lance McCullers and potential All-Star Dallas Keuchel. In the series finale, the Astros bloodied Edinson Volquez, the most reliable starter on the Royals. When Dyson resuscitated his teammates in the seventh, Altuve and his teammates authored a swift, decisive rebuttal.

“They’re hot right now,” Volquez said. “They’re playing pretty good. Especially at home.”

Houston toppled Volquez in the fifth inning. Wicked at the start, Volquez folded in his third turn through the order. He yielded a homer to infielder Marwin Gonzalez, an RBI single to Altuve and a two-run single to slugger Evan Gattis to place Kansas City in the hole.

When the fifth inning began, Volquez climbed the mound holding a two-run lead, with his ninth victory as a Royal in sight. Few scouts would consider Volquez an ace, not now, at this stage in his career. His past is too checkered. His delivery is too unreliable. But as the Royals tried to salvage one victory in this series with Houston, Volquez represented their best hope.

In times of struggle in years past, the Royals often turned to James Shields. He was the leader of their clubhouse and the workhorse of their rotation. He did not fit the scouting profile of an ace, but he exuded the behavioral patterns of one.

Shields departed for San Diego in free agency. Kansas City bequeathed his responsibility to Yordano Ventura. At 24, Ventura proved too raw for the mantle. His season has stumbled into a bog of injuries and inconsistency. Danny Duffy, their No. 2 starter at the beginning of the season, is trying to emerge from a morass of his own.

Instead the obligation landed at the feet of Volquez, who joined the team as a free agent on a two-year, $20 million contract. Volquez revitalized himself and reconfigured his style with Pittsburgh last season. But his history still set off alarms. Just two summers ago, the Padres cut Volquez due to his continual inability to throw strikes.

Yet Volquez has turned in a performance worthy of comparing with Shields On Wednesday, Volquez unleashed some of his nastiest offerings. He tied the hands of opposing batters with hellacious sinkers. He fooled others with changeups and curves. He gave up a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth, but he also struck out six during those four innings.

The fifth did not cooperate with him. A fastball to infielder Marwin Gonzalez caught too much plate, and Gonzalez powered it over the right field fence. The lead was down to one, and Volquez collapsed.

“It just got away from him right there,” Yost said. “He just started getting pitches up. He was trying to throw his curveball down, and left it up at times. Pitched really good — up until then.”

Volquez walked the No. 9 hitter, Jason Castro. He clipped outfielder George Springer on the wrist with a pitch. Jose Altuve tied the game with a single up the middle.

By this point, reliever Franklin Morales had begun to play catch in the bullpen. But manager Ned Yost stuck with Volquez. He would face off with Gattis for the third time in the night.

“I stuck with him there because it was the fifth inning, and he still had pitches in his tank,” Yost said. “I mean, I’m not going to run out and get a starting pitcher in that situation.”

Volquez had tormented Gattis with offspeed pitches in their first two at-bats. This time, Gattis managed to flick a two-run knock into right. Gattis was thrown out trying to stretch a double, but his hit still ruined an evening that began so well for the Royals.

A one-legged man sparked the offense in the first. Lorenzo Cain is still favoring his left hamstring, and he did not play the field on Wednesday. But his lower half and his upper half are operating in concert at the plate: He ripped a first-pitch fastball from rookie Vince Velasquez into center field and coasted to third base while running at about 75-percent speed.

He did not need to run hard to score. Velasquez tempted Morales with a fastball over the middle. Morales swung a tad late, but with enough power to drive one to left field. The baseball found a landing place in the Crawford Boxes. Alex Rios added another tally with an RBI knock in the second.

The lead looked imperiled two batters into the bottom of the first. Springer opened the inning with a single just over the head of shortstop Alcides Escobar. Altuve rolled a grounder to the left side. The ball trickled underneath Escobar’s glove and deflected off his right foot — a hit, in theory, for Altuve, and a jam, in reality, for Volquez.

Volquez did not panic. He lacked interest in feeding a fastball to Gattis. Volquez favored curveballs, and he struck out Gattis with a 2-2 bender that dipped beneath his bat and out of the zone. It was evidence of his arsenal on Wednesday — an arsenal that the Astros defused en route to their third victory in a row over the Royals.

“They’re doing a good job,” Perez said. “That’s why they won the games. Good pitching, good everything.”

Astros 6, Royals 5

Kansas City

ab

r

h

bi

Houston

ab

r

h

bi

AEscor ss

4

0

0

0

Springr cf

2

1

1

0

Mostks 3b

4

0

0

0

DoSntn ph-cf

2

0

0

0

L.Cain dh

4

1

2

0

Altuve 2b

4

2

3

1

KMorls 1b

3

1

1

2

Gattis lf

4

0

1

2

S.Perez c

3

1

0

0

Valuen 3b

3

0

0

0

AGordn lf

4

1

1

0

Carter dh

4

1

1

2

Rios rf

4

1

2

1

Singltn 1b

4

0

1

0

Infante 2b

4

0

0

0

Tucker rf

4

0

1

0

JDyson cf

3

0

1

2

MGnzlz ss

4

1

1

1

     

JCastro c

3

1

1

0

Totals

33

5

7

5

Totals

34

6

10

6

Kansas City

210

000

200

5

Houston

000

140

10x

6

DP: Houston 1. LOB: Kansas City 3, Houston 8. 2B: J.Castro (10). 3B: L.Cain (4), J.Dyson (4). HR: K.Morales (10), Carter (15), Ma.Gonzalez (5). SB: Rios (4), Springer (14), Altuve 2 (23).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Volquez

5

8

5

5

1

8

F.Morales

0.2

1

0

0

0

1

Madson

0.1

0

0

0

0

1

K.Herrera L,1-2

1

0

1

1

1

1

W.Davis

1

1

0

0

0

1

Houston

IPHRERWK

Velasquez

6.1

5

4

4

1

7

J.Fields BS,2-2

0.2

2

1

1

0

0

Thatcher H,6

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

Neshek H,20

0.2

0

0

0

0

0

Gregerson W,3-1

1

0

0

0

0

1

Volquez pitched to 1 batter in the 6th.

HBP: by Volquez (Springer), by K.Herrera (Altuve), by Neshek (K.Morales). WP: Velasquez.

Umpires: Home, Paul Emmel;First, Jerry Meals;Second, Andy Fletcher;Third, Jordan Baker.

Time: 3:21. Attendance: 25,848 (41,574).

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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