Well, hey, the Royals sure needed this, didn’t they? “This” being defined as the Houston Astros playing to form when the Royals desperately needed them to do so.
The Royals rallied Tuesday for a 7-3 victory at Minute Maid Park by scoring all seven runs against the Astros’ bullpen and with the aid of some atrocious defense.
The Royals ended their four-game losing streak, pulled back to .500 at 21-21 and avoided the possibility of getting swept by the Astros. And how bad would that have been? Hold on, that’s coming.
“That losing streak, that weight, is something that’s in the past,” said shortstop Alcides Escobar, who contributed two RBIs to the comeback.
“It’s nice when you come back like that in that situation, but you just keep playing hard. If you lose one game, two games or five games, you keep playing hard.”
It was fitting, perhaps, that Mike Moustakas, mired in a seasonlong slump, tied the game with a RBI single that ignited a four-run eighth inning.
“It felt good,” he admitted. “I was oh-for-whatever it was (18). To get that hit in that situation was big for us. Those are the situations I want to be in all of the time.”
George Kottaras followed with a bases-loaded walk, and the Royals had a 4-3 lead.
“As soon as he walked up there,” manager Ned Yost said, “I knew we were in pretty good shape. You just know, in those types of situations, he’s not going to come out of his approach. He’s just not.
“You’d better throw him strikes or he’s going to take a walk.”
The Royals turned 4-3 into 6-3 when Escobar hit a hopper to second, which could have been an inning-ending double play. At most, it should have resulted in a one-run fielder’s choice.
But Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, after getting the force, threw wildly to first, which permitted another run to score.
Thereafter, it was just a matter of getting six outs.
Aaron Crow replaced Bruce Chen, 3-0, after Jimmy Paredes’ leadoff single in the eighth. It was Paredes who earlier provided the Astros with a 3-0 lead with a two-out homer in the fourth against Royals starter Wade Davis.
Crow got a double play and a strikeout. Greg Holland closed out the victory in a non-save situation.
“We have all been trying to get out of (this slump),” Chen said. “We’ve been trying to relax. And tonight, everyone did their jobs.”
Astros starter Bud Norris baffled the Royals for six innings before exiting because of back tightness. He permitted just five hits, all singles — three by Alex Gordon — before the Royals jumped all over the Houston bullpen.
“He threw the ball well,” Yost said. “To show you how well he threw the ball, as soon as he got out of there, we started our offensive outburst.”
Travis Blackley replaced Norris to start the seventh and immediately surrendered singles to Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.
Moustakas hit what should have been a double-play grounder to first but Blackley couldn’t find first after breaking from the mound. So the Astros settled for a force at second. (There’s a reason they have their record.)
After Blackley struck out Kottaras, Yost sent Escobar up to bat for Chris Getz. Astros manager Bo Porter countered by bringing in Paul Clemens.
Escobar grounded a single into center, and it was 3-1. David Lough followed with an RBI single through the right side that made it 3-2.
A passed ball moved the runners to second and third before Elliot Johnson struck out.
Chen pitched around a walk and an Escobar error in the Houston seventh before Gordon opened the eighth with a walk from Clemens, 1-2, and went to second on Butler’s single to right.
Jeff Francoeur replaced Butler as a pinch-runner.
Porter brought in lefty Wesley Wright to face Hosmer, who served a single into center that loaded the bases with no outs. Gordon had to hold to make sure the ball got through and stopped at third.
The Astros shortened their infield and replaced Wright with Jose Cisnero for a right-on-right matchup with Cain, who jumped ahead 3-0 in the count before striking out — the third strike looking.
That got the game to Moustakas, who snapped his skid with a single through the right side that tied the game. Kottaras’ walk made it 4-3 before the Astros bungled Escobar’s grounder.
The Royals added another run in the ninth when Johnson led off with a single, stole second and third before scoring on a passed ball.
“We’re resilient,” Moustakas said. “We got out every day and try to win a ballgame. If we’re not playing well for a week or two weeks, we know something is going to turn around at some point.”
So, now, the Royals enter Wednesday night’s series finale with a chance to win the series and move back over .500. And they have James Shields on the mound.
That all sounds a lot better than what they were staring at through six innings against Norris. At the worst, they can’t get swept. How bad would that have been?
The Astros, now 13-33, are roughly paralleling the 1962 Mets, but they are no one-year calamity. These guys won only 111 games over the preceding two seasons.
Some perspective: The Royals, as bad as they’ve been (particularly in the mid-aughts), were never that bad in any two-year span. That’s right; these Astros have already tunneled under the worst the Royals ever mustered.
Whoa. Or woe. Your choice.