Houston blew a three-run lead, the largest its squandered in any loss this season, during Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
If there was any panic, or really even disappointment, it wasn’t palpable in the Astros’ locker room Friday after the Royals rallied for a 5-4 victory at Kauffman Stadium
Sure, manager A.J. Hinch’s squad would have preferred a two-game series lead heading back to Houston, but, after ensuring a split with Thursday’s win, the Astros were just happy to be going home.
“I’ve been thinking about it all day actually,” reliever Tony Sipp said.
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Two weeks will have passed since Houston, which tied the Blue Jays for the best home record in the AL this season, 53-28, last played at Minute Maid Park before ace Dallas Keuchel toes the rubber at 3:10 p.m. Sunday.
The Astros finished the regular season on a six-game road swing, traveled to New York for Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game and split two games in Kansas City since the last time the players and coaches slept in their own beds.
“We’ve been on the road for a while,” Sipp said. “Just to be able to go home and get back to things we’re familiar with, it’s going to be a good feeling. You get to go home to whatever your vice is, your favorite restaurant or whatever, and just get back into your routine.”
Houston clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season and hasn’t yet had a chance to celebrate its first postseason berth in a decade with its home fans, which likely will add more energy to an already rowdy atmosphere.
“It’s going to be rocking, man; it’s going to be exciting,” outfielder Jake Marisnick said. “(Our fans) have been great all year. We’re looking forward to getting back and playing in front of them.”
Houston’s confidence and comfort in settling is heightened by starting Keuchel, the Wild Card Game winner, in Game 3.
During 18 home starts this season, Keuchel is 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 139 strikeouts against 28 walks in 129 1/ 3 innings.
“He’s our guy and, whenever he has the ball, we expect to win,” right fielder George Springer said.
That’s potentially very bad news for the Royals.
Since baseball adopted the League Division Series format in 1995, the Game 3 winner in a five-game series that is tied 1-1 advances 78.1 percent of the time, 25-7.
“We didn’t see a lot of orange in the stands here and it’s a tough place to play,” Sipp said of Kauffman Stadium. “We definitely didn’t have the people rallying behind us, but that’s going to change.”
The Astros expect it to change in a big way.
“I have a feeling (Minute Maid Park) is going to be going crazy and it’s going to serve to our advantage,” left-hander Scott Kazmir said.