Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian: Royals flip script on Astros

As a wise baseball man once put it, “Once you realize you don’t have anything figured out is when you’ve got it figured out.”

And when you get right down to it, that gem from the enlightened Danny Duffy accounts as much as anything else for the confounding zigzags of fortunes on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Kauffman Stadium.

Houston came to town Monday with the best record and most prolific offense in the major leagues to impose upon the Royals, who in turn had the worst record in the American League and the most sickly offense in the game.

All was playing to that script as of the 7-3 Astros win in the series opener and their apparent 7-1 stranglehold in the fourth inning on Tuesday.

Then, presto, the Royals improbably rallied to win Tuesday to end Houston’s 11-game winning streak.

For an encore on Wednesday, they fended off the Astros 7-5 to hoist themselves out of last place in the AL Central past the White Sox — and lurk 4  1/2 games out of first place after Minnesota’s 6-5 loss to Seattle.

This just wasn’t supposed to be that type of game, beginning with the fact Dallas Keuchel (9-0, 1.67 ERA) was scheduled to start for Houston in an enticing matchup with Jason Vargas — whose pre-game ERA of 2.08 was second only to Keuchel among major-league starters.

But it wasn’t as it appeared to be.

Keuchel fell ill and was scratched, enabling the Royals to tee off on right-hander Dayan Diaz in his first major-league start … with the lineup that had been customized for the left-handed Keuchel.

Asked whether he had felt any need to change the lineup after that development, manager Ned Yost said, “Did I change the lineup?”

To laughter, he added, “I guess there was no need to.”

More seriously, Yost noted that he didn’t want to make changes on short notice before the game and liked the idea of giving Alex Gordon a day off and Cheslor Cuthbert a second straight start.

So, a lineup that was less by design for the situation than just “let’s stick with what we had” resounded.

Next thing you know, the Royals were scoring all their runs with two outs and getting three RBIs from Cuthbert. They got a couple more from Alcides Escobar — who entered the game with 13 all season — and another from Ramon Torres, making his major-league debut in the Keuchel-crafted lineup.

Add it all up and that was six RBIs out of the beleaguered bottom of the order.

Then, there’s Exhibit A in the “go figure” scheme: Vargas, a marvel in his return from Tommy John surgery, somehow better than ever at 34 years old and rewired.

Coming off a complete-game shutout of Cleveland, Vargas gave up two runs in six innings against a team that had scored six or more runs in nine straight games — the longest such streak in Major League Baseball since the Astros did so in 11 straight in 2004.

Never mind that he labored some, running deeper counts than he normally does.

The total damage was a solo home run by Brian McCann, the 94th of the season and 33rd in the last 15 games by the brawny Astros, and an RBI single by McCann.

“I thought he scrapped,” Yost said of Vargas. “Command was off, but he finds ways to grind through it … That’s the mark of a good pitcher.”

Some hiccups in the bullpen made for a late scare, but when it was over the Royals were 26-32 and guaranteed at least a split of the series with the Astros before embarking on a nine-game West Coast swing.

That tour will pit them against three sub-.500 teams in San Diego and San Francisco and Anaheim, including Padres and Giants teams struggling more than the Royals.

Maybe it will serve as a chance for the Royals to nibble closer towards .500 — as they’ve gradually been doing by going 16-12 since a 10-20 start.

Then again, the only thing you can really figure is you don’t know — another reason why it’s worth staying tuned.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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