Royals

Royals can’t solve Astros ace Dallas Keuchel in 4-2 loss in Game 3 of ALDS

The Royals’ Lorenzo Cain reacted after striking out and leaving Alex Rios stranded at second base in the seventh inning of Sunday’s American League Division Series game on Sunday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The Royals’ Lorenzo Cain reacted after striking out and leaving Alex Rios stranded at second base in the seventh inning of Sunday’s American League Division Series game on Sunday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. skeyser@kcstar.com

The volume increased with each pitch, as the decibel level at Minute Maid Park swelled thanks to the voices of fans starved by a decade without playoff baseball and the hollow thunk of inflatable noisemakers. A game hung in the balance, and with it, the momentum of a five-game sprint.

This is October: Our best versus your best, so in the seventh inning of a 4-2 loss Sunday in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, Royals All-Star Lorenzo Cain stared out 60 feet and six inches at Astros All-Star pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Houston manager A.J. Hinch approached the mound, but he left the ball in the hands of his ace.

“He probably knew I was going to bite his head off,” Keuchel said.

As the proverbial backs of the Royals pressed against a wall, Cain represented the tying run. He had launched the lone salvo sullying Keuchel’s line, a solo homer three innings prior. Now the Royals required Cain to break through, to erase the pattern of failure with runners in scoring position. A runner stood on third base as Keuchel prepared to throw his 124th pitch of the day.

Keuchel rocked and fired a 90-mph fastball destined for the outer reaches of the strike zone, far from where Cain might hurt him. Cain flailed and missed. He smacked his bat with his fist. The pattern held — the best of the Royals, stars such as Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, could not trump Keuchel, the lodestar of Houston’s rotation.

“When you get to this type of scenario and you don’t capitalize, you get what happens today,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They did.”

The Royals got base runners against the Astros' Dallas Keuchel but couldn't get them home in a 4-2 loss Sunday in Houston. Next up is a must-win at 12:07 p.m. Monday on Fox Sports 1.

The Royals finished the day with zero hits in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Astros found two in eight chances. The difference decided the game.

With the loss, one of the best Royals teams in franchise history moved to the brink of elimination. Yordano Ventura will start Game 4 this afternoon. A victory will send this series back to Kansas City. A loss will usher in the winter, far earlier than Yost or general manager Dayton Moore ever hoped.

After four sterling innings, Edinson Volquez stumbled in the fifth and the sixth. He coughed up a one-run lead, a thin margin to be sure, but perhaps the best expected against a stalwart southpaw like Keuchel. Astros veteran Jason Castro cracked a go-ahead, two-run single in the fifth and outfielder Carlos Gomez ambushed Volquez for a RBI single in the sixth.

“I think I pitched pretty good tonight, especially pitching against Keuchel,” Volquez said. “He’s a bulldog.”

Danny Duffy yielded a solo blast to Chris Carter in the seventh. Keuchel would not depart until after the seventh. He set a season-high pitch count, scattered five hits and stranded eight runners. Hosmer, Gordon and Perez combined to go zero for eight against him. Gordon walloped a leadoff homer in the ninth, but that only cut the deficit to two.

“I think losing is the frustration,” Gordon said. “Obviously, when you get guys on base and it doesn’t happen, there’s frustration there.”

Standing beside a photo of Sunday's winning pitcher, The Star's Andy McCullough and Blair Kerkhoff explain what went wrong for the Royals in a 4-2 loss at Houston on Sunday and now need a win Monday to keep their season alive.

The Astros outfitted Minute Maid Park for maximum distraction. Despite clear skies and temperatures in the 80s, the roof was sealed. The team distributed Thunderstix to fans before the game to manufacture noise.

The setting suited Keuchel. He finished the regular season with a 15-0 record and a 1.46 ERA at home. Kansas City avoided him for the first two games because the Astros needed Keuchel to blank the Yankees for six innings in the Wild Card Game.

Keuchel excels at producing groundballs via soft contact. The Royals did not lift a ball into the air until the third inning, when Alcides Escobar flied out to center.

Cain became the next Royal to hit a fly ball. He led off the fourth with a 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off five in a row. He spoiled change-ups away and fastballs on the hands. At last, Keuchel hung a slider. Cain did not miss.

The blast soared over the Crawford Boxes in left field and cleared the train tracks high above the field. Cain clapped his hands, just once, as he touched home plate.

“Let’s go!” he shouted as he slapped hands with Perez outside the dugout. “Let’s go!”

Volquez operated at the height of his powers, mixing a 95-mph fastball with a deceptive change-up and a hammer curve. His defense aided him. Houston did not collect a hit until Carter hit a liner off the left-field wall. Carter hesitated as he rounded first base, and Gordon gunned him down at second.

Despite the lead, the Royals squandered a series of chances. In the fourth, Gordon stranded two runners when he flied out on a 2-0 fastball, unable to get the barrel on what he called a “power sinker.” In the fifth, Hosmer whiffed on a slider, low and away, nowhere near the zone, with two men aboard.

“We had a couple of chances today and just didn’t get it done,” Hosmer said. “Myself, personally, included, just didn’t get it done.”

Volquez recorded six strikeouts in the first four innings, baffling credible foes such as Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Heading into the fifth, no Astro had reached second base. That changed soon after Volquez issued a one-out walk to Luis Valbuena. Up came Carter. He ripped a first-pitch fastball into the left-field corner and sprinted for a double. Valbuena held at third.

Volquez had struck out Castro with a curveball at the thighs in the third inning. Castro stared at the ball as it dipped into the strike zone. This time, Volquez shook off Perez’s call for a 1-2 fastball. He tried a change-up, a pitch that “was kind of in the middle,” Volquez said. Castro rolled a single back up the middle and gave Houston the lead.

The Astros padded the advantage in the next inning. Springer unloaded on the first pitch of the inning, a curveball down the middle. Cain sprinted to his right, trying to flag down the ball. He reached it with his glove, but could not hang on. Springer braked at second with a double.

“Just caught it in the palm of my glove,” Cain said. “Definitely got to make that play. That’s a play that I always make.”

Correa advanced Springer to third. The Royals elected to intentionally walk Rasmus. After Gattis struck out, Yost allowed Volquez to face Gomez. Gomez was nursing an intercostal strain, and his swings earlier in the game looked agonizing. Yet he still lined a first-pitch single.

“It was a good pitch, down and in,” Volquez said. “And he was still able to drive the ball to center field. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

The ball landed near Cain’s feet. He was hamstrung by the ball’s flight, unable to charge for a dive, unable to stop Houston’s relentless rush. As the decibel level skyrocketed once more, the best of the Royals could not stop the best of the Astros.

Alex Rios led off the seventh with a walk. Escobar chased a 3-2 pitch for a ground-out, which at least advanced Rios. Ben Zobrist tried to sneak a bunt single, but could not push the ball far enough down the third-base line. So it was up to Cain, whose arrival prompted Hinch to visit the mound.

“I figured he was going to let me pitch to their best hitter, and I thought I deserved it,” Keuchel said.

Cain fouled off a 2-0 change-up and missed another one. He took another change-up. But with the count full, he chased a sinker outside his reach.

“I think it was a ball,” Cain said. “Little too aggressive there. That’s what he (Keuchel) does.”

Gordon provided a lift with his solo shot against closer Luke Gregerson in the ninth. Escobar singled, bringing the tying run to the plate. But Zobrist hit into a fielder’s choice and Cain struck out to end it.

The defeat wounded the club. The players raced through the regular season, and their only adversity seemed self-inflicted. Now they had found an opponent worthy of consideration. When he entered his postgame press conference, Yost pondered a pair of seats.

“Let’s see which one is the lucky chair for tomorrow,” he said. “Let’s go with this one.”

Yost grabbed the far-most furniture and smiled. Though they mumbled answers inside their clubhouse, the Royals spoke similar words of optimism.

“Panic is not something we do,” Cain said.

“We’ll get them tomorrow,” Escobar said, “and back home.”

“We’re battling for our lives, but if there’s a group of guys who can get this done, it’s us,” Hosmer said.

“We’ve won two straight during the year. It can be done,” Gordon said.

The performance today will determine whether these are seen as proclamations or platitudes. Today could determine how this 95-win Royals team, one of the best in franchise history, will be remembered.

“We’ve got to win two, they’ve got to win one,” Yost said. “But we come out (today) and we win, then it’s excitement back at The K for Game 5. So we’re looking forward to that.”

[ Lorenzo Cain’s misplay embodies day for Royals but not necessarily the series ]

[ Royals starter Edinson Volquez has some of his best stuff, but not enough to win ]

[ ‘Definitely frustration’: Hosmer, Gordon and a nearly historic Royals inefficiency ]

American League Division Series Game 3

Astros 4, Royals 2

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

A.Escobar ss

5

0

2

0

0

0

.286

Zobrist 2b

4

0

1

0

0

1

.417

L.Cain cf

4

1

1

1

1

2

.250

Hosmer 1b

4

0

0

0

0

3

.083

K.Morales dh

3

0

1

0

1

0

.364

Moustakas 3b

4

0

1

0

0

1

.100

S.Perez c

3

0

0

0

1

1

.200

A.Gordon lf

4

1

1

1

0

2

.273

Rios rf

3

0

0

0

1

0

.125

Totals

34

2

7

2

4

10

Houston

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Altuve 2b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.214

Springer rf

4

1

1

0

0

2

.364

Correa ss

4

0

1

0

0

1

.231

Col.Rasmus lf

1

0

1

0

3

0

.571

Gattis dh

4

0

0

0

0

2

.167

C.Gomez cf

4

0

1

1

0

2

.250

Valbuena 3b

1

1

0

0

1

1

.125

a-Ma.Gonzalez ph-3b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

b-Lowrie ph-3b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Carter 1b

3

2

3

1

0

0

.455

J.Castro c

3

0

1

2

0

1

.111

Totals

30

4

8

4

4

10

Kansas City

000

100

001

2

7

0

Houston

000

021

10x

4

8

1

a-popped out for Valbuena in the 6th. b-flied out for Ma.Gonzalez in the 8th.

E: Valbuena (1). LOB: Kansas City 10, Houston 6. 2B: Zobrist (1), Moustakas (1), Springer (1), Carter (1). HR: L.Cain (1), off Keuchel; A.Gordon (1), off Gregerson; Carter (1), off D.Duffy. RBIs: L.Cain (1), A.Gordon (1), C.Gomez (1), Carter (1), J.Castro 2 (2). S: Zobrist.

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 5 (Hosmer 2, A.Gordon 2, L.Cain); Houston 2 (Ma.Gonzalez, Lowrie). RISP: Kansas City 0 for 7; Houston 2 for 8. Runners moved up: A.Escobar, L.Cain, Moustakas, S.Perez, Correa. GIDP: Altuve. DP: Kansas City 1 (A.Escobar, Zobrist, Hosmer).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Volquez L, 0-1

5.2

5

3

3

4

8

4.76

D.Duffy

0.2

1

1

1

0

0

13.50

Hochevar

1.2

2

0

0

0

2

0.00

Houston

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Keuchel W, 1-0

7

5

1

1

3

7

1.29

Sipp

0.2

0

0

0

1

2

0.00

Gregerson S, 2-2

1.1

2

1

1

0

1

3.86

Holds: Sipp (2). Inherited runners-scored: D.Duffy 2-0, Gregerson 1-0. IBB: off Volquez (Col.Rasmus), off Keuchel (L.Cain). WP: Keuchel.

Umpires: Home, Mike Everitt; First, Ron Kulpa; Second, Gerry Davis; Third, Todd Tichenor; Left, Lance Barksdale; Right, Angel Hernandez. Time: 3:20. Att: 42,674.

Andy McCullough, 816-234-4370, @McCulloughStar

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