The reverberations of hands cracking hands echoed through the nearly empty confines of Minute Maid Park. Mike Moustakas provided one concussive stroke for the Royals in a 6-4 victory Wednesday over the Astros, a go-ahead solo home run in the 11th inning.
Inside the dugout, the noise created by his high-fives revealed his relief. He stepped to the plate with a batting average below .100 and a fanbase hollering for either a demotion or a benching or worse. For a few brief moments, Moustakas alone created the noise.
“It felt great,” Moustakas said. “Slow start or no slow start, it’s a big win for us.”
In turn, the Royals won for the second night in a row. With a victory on Thursday evening, they can exit a road that begin in such hellish fashion with a .500 record.
Before Moustakas went deep, to right field for his first home run of the year, Danny Duffy authored a tremendous relief outing. He is floating without a precise role in a bullpen filled with pitchers in similar situations. On Wednesday, manager Ned Yost asked him to hold a deadlock starting in the ninth inning, to provide innings until this scuffling offense delivered a run.
Working with a useful slider and an upper-90s fastball, Duffy overwhelmed the Astros. He struck out four in two dynamic innings. The Royals tacked on an insurance run in the 11th. Greg Holland collected his fifth save, but Duffy still stood out.
“That’s what we talked about, having a power arm that can come into a ballgame,” Yost said. “Especially a tie game like that, and give you an opportunity to battle back and put a run on the board.”
Added Duffy, “That was fun.”
The lone cause for concern was center fielder Lorenzo Cain. He strained his groin trying to beat out an infield single. The team categorized it as a “Grade One” strain, which is considered on the minor side of the scale. Yost called his status “day to day.”
Jarrod Dyson replaced Cain in the field. Justin Maxwell and Nori Aoki can also handle brief tours in center. If the team makes a roster move, it may decide on a backup infielder like Pedro Ciriaco, Johnny Giavotella or Christian Colon.
On Wednesday, Astros starter Dallas Keuchel out-performed Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie over six innings. Keuchel limited the Royals to a pair of runs on six hits. The Astros twice victimized Guthrie with two-run homers. Marc Krauss launched the latter shot in the sixth inning. Salvador Perez knotted the game up with a two-out, two-run single off reliever Matt Albers in the seventh.
With Keuchel, a lefty, on the mound, Yost countered by sitting Moustakas and right fielder Nori Aoki. He inserted Valencia in at third and Justin Maxwell in right in hopes of keeping both hitters fresh.
Valencia rewarded Yost in his first at-bat. He kept his hands steady on a 2-1 change-up and golfed the pitch into the Crawford Boxes in left. His blast marked the third Royals home run of the season, and their second in two days from an unlikely source.
On Tuesday, second baseman Omar Infante kicked off the scoring with a solo homer. A day later it was Valencia, who excels against left-handed pitching. Even so, the team has yet to waver in its commitment to Moustakas.
Like Valencia earlier, Moustakas rewarded Yost for his faith. He squared off with reliever Jamal Williams. A change-up floated into the zone.
“I knew I got it pretty good,” Moustakas said. “I didn’t know how far it was going to go. But I was obviously happy it carried out of here.”