Royals

Astros jump to early lead, beat Royals 5-2 in ALDS opener

Frustration showed on the face of Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon after home run by Houston Astros right fielder George Springer flew over his head in the fifth inning of Thursday’s game.
Frustration showed on the face of Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon after home run by Houston Astros right fielder George Springer flew over his head in the fifth inning of Thursday’s game. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Silence no longer suits Kauffman Stadium, not after the exorcism of the 2014 playoffs and the season-long euphoria of 2015. This ballpark saw the Royals raise a pennant last year and capture a division title last month. Yet silence, the collective stifling of more than 40,000 voices ready to roar during Game 1 of the American League Division Series, radiated through the park in the final moments of a 5-2 loss to the Astros.

The fans frothed with anticipation when the Royals, at last, placed two runners aboard in the bottom of the eighth against lefty reliever Oliver Perez. The descent of Eric Hosmer’s pop-up in foul territory operated like a light switch killing the noise. The crowd greeted the final out an inning later with a whimper, as the Royals turned their backs to the diamond and filed toward their clubhouse and to Friday, when they will attempt to tie this series.

“We’re in the playoffs,” Hosmer said. “Every game is a have-to-win situation. Obviously, it’s not the way you want to start out, especially at home. But we’ve got to even it out.”

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Facing a distorted mirror image of themselves – a youthful team stocked with athleticism and plunging into October for the first time – the Royals came undone in the face of Houston’s crafty defensive positioning and offensive firepower. The Royals managed only six hits.

“It’s not a death sentence to lose Game 1,” manager Ned Yost said, but the potential for an abbreviated October looms. Now the Royals, the defending American League champions and the owners of the junior circuit’s best record this year, will turn to Johnny Cueto for Game 2.

If the Royals lose, they would face Astros southpaw Dallas Keuchel, the potential American League Cy Young Award winner. Keuchel excels at Minute Maid Park. He went 15-0 there this season.

“We’ll take care of business tomorrow and hopefully then move on to Keuchel,” outfielder Alex Gordon said. “He’s got to lose some time at home. Hopefully that’ll be it.”

On Thursday night, Kansas City’s plans fizzled from the start. The Royals intended for Yordano Ventura to bully the Astros with his fastball. Instead he yielded three runs in two innings and departed after a 49-minute rain delay interrupted the night.

Pitching only three days after his father’s memorial service, Chris Young provided four innings of one-run emergency relief. Ryan Madson allowed a homer to outfielder Colby Rasmus in the eighth.

The effort from Young kept Kansas City within striking distance. With a pair of solo shots, Kendrys Morales became the first Royal to hit multiple homers in a playoff game since George Brett in the 1985 American League Championship Series. The rest of the bunch managed only two hits in six innings against Astros starter Collin McHugh.

“We got little mini-rallies going, but we couldn’t sustain them,” Yost said. “He just made pitches and kept us off balance with his off-speed stuff.”

The matchup with the Astros invited comparisons to Kansas City’s route in last year’s playoffs. In 2014, the Royals played the upstarts, securing a frenetic comeback victory in the Wild Card Game and racing to the World Series. Now the club stood as the No. 1 seed, attempting to form a roadblock for whatever theoretical momentum the Astros created by defeating the Yankees on Tuesday in this year’s one-game playoff.

“That’s a great team over there,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “They just came out and they beat us tonight.”

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During batting practice, gone were the dignitaries and the hoopla from the previous October, when each Kansas City playoff game felt like a gift. No longer can this team pretend to be an underdog. Hip-hop and arena rock pulsed through the stadium’s loud speakers, but the stands were quiet.

The architect of the club, Dayton Moore, joined a small group of his lieutenants inside the dugout. The eyes of the executives flitted between batting practice and their phones, which offered updates from Toronto’s Game 1 loss to Texas.

Moore wore a black pinstriped suit. He sipped from a bottle of water without a label. As batting practice wound down, he hustled across the field to hug Houston bench coach Trey Hillman. Hillman oversaw losing clubs in 2008 and 2009 before Moore deposed him in favor of Ned Yost midway in the second month of 2010.

The crowd saluted Yost when he emerged from his dugout at 6:22 p.m. during the pregame introductions. The organization bucked expectations in setting their playoff rotation. Instead of Cueto, the ace the team acquired in July, the Royals deemed Ventura their Game 1 starter. The decision arose from Kansas City’s confidence in Ventura and Cueto’s reluctance to pitch on short rest, as he would have needed to for Thursday.

Ventura did not author an auspicious start. He could not record an out until his 20th pitch. By then, the Astros had already loaded the bases thanks to a single by second baseman Jose Altuve, a walk by outfielder George Springer and a single by shortstop Carlos Correa. Rasmus plated a run with a groundout and designated hitter Evan Gattis soon did the same. The frame lasted 13 minutes and required 24 pitches from Ventura.

“They were tough on him, taking pitches, and making sure they looked for one pitch,” said infielder Christian Colon, who translated for Ventura. “It seemed like when they got that pitch, they didn’t miss it.”

An inning later, Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick whacked an 0-2, 99-mph fastball to the wall for a two-out double. Up came Altuve, the pint-sized former batting champion. One Royals official compared him to Yogi Berra, famous for both his lack of size and his ability to transform pitches outside the zone into base hits. Altuve soon smacked a fastball into right field.

As the ball hit the grass, Alex Rios charged forward. He clutched twice before he threw. Marisnick sprinted from second base and spotted the whirling arm of third-base coach Gary Pettis. The throw from Rios arrived too late and the deficit expanded to three.

The park felt a jolt in the bottom of the inning, when McHugh tried to sneak a fastball past Morales’ hands. In his first postseason at-bat since 2009, Morales hooked a homer down the right-field line.

Actual lightning followed the metaphorical thunder. Salvador Perez never received a chance to crouch behind the plate for the third inning. The grounds crew unfurled the tarp, and the delay evicted Ventura from the premises. The Royals did not feel comfortable bring Ventura back after nearly an hour away from the mound.

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If the Royals can force Game 4, Ventura would pitch on three days of rest, Yost said.

“You weren't really anticipating rain because nobody was calling for it,” Yost said. “They even came in right before the heavy rain and said it's about to stop and we'll be done for the night. And then it just blew up. So that kind of made the decision easier for Game 4.”

Houston stuck with McHugh. He retired the side without incident in the third. In the fourth, he flipped a changeup over the heart of the plate. Morales tattooed the pitch, high and deep, a parabola that cleared the right-field fence.

The Royals turned to Young. He had not pitched in the playoffs since fall 2006, when he got a victory for San Diego after nearly seven scoreless innings against St. Louis. That was before he underwent the succession of shoulder surgeries that altered his career.

Called into relief, Young struck out the side in the third and the fourth. With one out in the fifth, he yielded a homer to George Springer on an elevated, 88-mph fastball. The solo shot could have been worse: only moments earlier, Perez threw out Altuve, his childhood friend, trying to steal second.

Young waded through the Astros lineup through the sixth inning. The Astros kept McHugh in the game. He had benefited from stellar defense all evening. Altuve snagged a sizzling liner off Lorenzo Cain’s bat in the fourth. Marisnick dove to rob shortstop Alcides Escobar of a hit with two runners aboard in the fifth.

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Houston places a premium on defensive shifts. The positioning exasperated their hosts.

“They do the whole sabermetric thing,” Cain said. “It worked out perfect for them.”

In six at-bats against Cain and Hosmer, the two prime generators of Royals offense, McHugh recorded six outs. Houston manager A.J. Hinch allowed McHugh to face Morales with two outs in the sixth.

The gamble went unpunished. Morales floated a flyball into the glove of Springer in right field. The park once more went quiet.

Silence followed the players back into their clubhouse. The group did not pout, but there was little reason to celebrate. A 95-win team now stands two defeats away from winter.

“If we can get out of here and split the series, 1-1, that will give us new life,” Hosmer said. “That will give us momentum heading into their place.”

Andy McCullough: 816-234-4730, @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

American League Division Series Game 1

Astros 5, Royals 2

TableStyle: SP-basebattersCCI Template: SP-basebatters

Houston

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Altuve 2b

5

1

3

1

0

0

.600

Springer rf

4

2

2

1

1

1

.500

Correa ss

5

0

1

0

0

2

.200

Col.Rasmus lf

3

1

1

2

1

1

.333

Gattis dh

4

0

1

1

0

1

.250

1-C.Gomez pr-dh

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Valbuena 3b

3

0

0

0

1

3

.000

Carter 1b

4

0

1

0

0

2

.250

Ma.Gonzalez 1b

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

J.Castro c

4

0

0

0

0

3

.000

Marisnick cf

4

1

2

0

0

1

.500

Totals

36

5

11

5

3

14

TableStyle: SP-basebattersCCI Template: SP-basebatters

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

A.Escobar ss

4

0

0

0

0

1

.000

Zobrist 2b

4

0

2

0

0

0

.500

L.Cain cf

4

0

1

0

0

0

.250

Hosmer 1b

4

0

0

0

0

0

.000

K.Morales dh

4

2

2

2

0

1

.500

Moustakas 3b

3

0

0

0

0

0

.000

S.Perez c

4

0

0

0

0

1

.000

A.Gordon lf

4

0

1

0

0

0

.250

Rios rf

2

0

0

0

1

1

.000

Totals

33

2

6

2

1

4

TableStyle: SP-basebyinningsCCI Template: SP-basebyinnings

Houston

210

010

010

5

11

0

Kansas City

010

100

000

2

6

0

1-ran for Gattis in the 8th.

LOB: Houston 7, Kansas City 6. 2B: Marisnick (1). HR: Springer (1), off C.Young; Col.Rasmus (1), off Madson; K.Morales 2 (2), off McHugh 2. RBIs: Altuve (1), Springer (1), Col.Rasmus 2 (2), Gattis (1), K.Morales 2 (2). SB: Col.Rasmus (1), Zobrist (1). CS: Altuve (1).

Runners left in scoring position: Houston 5 (Valbuena 2, Springer, J.Castro, Correa); Kansas City 3 (Hosmer 2, Zobrist). RISP: Houston 2 for 10; Kansas City 0 for 5. Runners moved up: Altuve, Col.Rasmus, Gattis. GIDP: J.Castro. DP: Kansas City 1 (Zobrist, A.Escobar, Hosmer).

TableStyle: SP-basepitchersCCI Template: SP-basepitchers

Houston

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

McHugh W, 1-0

6

4

2

2

1

1

3.00

Sipp

1

0

0

0

0

0

0.00

W.Harris

2/3

2

0

0

0

1

0.00

O.Perez

1/3

0

0

0

0

0

0.00

Gregerson S, 1

1

0

0

0

0

2

0.00

TableStyle: SP-basepitchersCCI Template: SP-basepitchers

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Ventura L, 0-1

2

4

3

3

1

2

13.50

C.Young

4

3

1

1

2

7

2.25

K.Herrera

1

1

0

0

0

2

0.00

Madson

1

2

1

1

0

3

9.00

Hochevar

1

1

0

0

0

0

0.00

Holds: Harris (1), O.Perez (1), Sipp (1). Inherited runners-scored: O.Perez 2-0. HBP: by Gregerson (Moustakas).

Umpires: Home, Lance Barksdale; First, Angel Hernandez; Second, Mike Everitt; Third, Ron Kulpa; Left, Gerry Davis; Right, Todd Tichenor. Time: 3:14 (Rain delay: 0:49). Att: 40,146.

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