Those still smarting from the 2015 ALDS remember these two recurring Royal nightmares - late-inning scoring rallies and rock-solid relief which led Kansas City to comeback victories. The Royals' formula still works as evidenced by Saturday night's 7-3 decision over Houston at Minute Maid. The Royals cleverly laid in wait as Houston built a 2-1 lead over seven innings, choosing not to waste their energies flailing at 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and, instead, pouncing on the first bullpen arm they could find.
Springer: Loses battle with fence
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
That happened to be generally dependable reliever Luke Gregerson who was torched for the worst performance of his career. Alex Gordon lashed a two-run single off Gregerson to give the Royals the lead then Lorenzo Cain added an RBI single before Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez hammered back-to-back homers to quickly put the game out of reach.
Houston managed a single tally in the ninth as Marwin Gonzalez drove in his second run of the evening but it was not enough to prevent the Astros' third straight loss to even their season record at 3-3, falling out of first place for the first time this season.
The Astros had built their lead on Brian McCann's solo homer off KC's Danny Duffy to lead off the third then Gonzalez singled home Carlos Correa after a walk and two infield singles had filled the bases in the fourth.
Kansas City answered with a solo shot by Cheslor Cuthbert in the fifth and the stage was set for the decisive eighth. Keuchel allowed just two hits and one walk over seven frames while striking out four. Still cautious after inflammation that cut short Keuchel's 2016 campaign, manager A.J. Hinch pulled the ace after 93 pitches and left the 2-1 lead to his bullpen.
Duffy, meanwhile, scattered eight hits and two walks over his seven innings and walked away the winning pitcher. Peter Moylan and Mike Minor mopped up after the six-run outburst, saving Kansas City's best bullpen arms for Sunday if needed.
A largely disappointed 35,373 packed Minute Maid on Saturday night and another near-sellout awaits in Sunday's 1:10 Central series finale. Lance McCullers (1-0) will try to break the hex as he challenges Nate Karns (0-0) in the matinee. Karns will be the first righthanded starter the Astros have faced in their last five games and was roughed up for four runs in his only appearance so far this season - a relief role against Minnesota in a 9-1 defeat.
George Springer, perhaps the modern day Pete Reiser with his reckless outfield style, jammed his left wrist into the outfield fence while chasing a foul fly in the eighth but has declared himself ready for action Sunday despite the pain. Springer played in all 162 games last year but missed significant time to injuries in 2014 and 2015. You don't want to negate his all-out hustle but he's one of the few hitters in the Houston lineup batting his weight so it would not be good for him to miss time right now while his bat is practically carrying the team.
- Bob Hulsey