Not all game-winning hits are equally important. On a scale of 1-to-10, Jose Altuve's two-run homer in the ninth off Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera merits at least an eight. He picked on a tailing slider and drove it into the third row of seats in deep left center to snap a 1-1 tie which stood up in a tense 6-1 victory that tied the four-game series, 2-2, and halted a two-game losing streak to complete an 8-2 road trip.
Altuve: Game-winning form
(c) Associated Press
Josh Reddick opened the ninth with a four-pitch walk before Altuve launched his ninth homer of the year. Carlos Correa followed with a liner to center that skipped past Lorenzo Cain for a triple. Brian McCann brought him home with a sacrifice fly. After Houston loaded the bases, and with Peter Moylan on the mound, Jake Marisnick dumped a two-run single to right that capped the five-run outburst.
Lance McCullers tossed six no-hit innings before losing that and a slim 1-0 lead in the seventh when Tuesday's hero, Mike Moustakas drilled an RBI single that plated Cain who had tripled to break up the no-no.
Jason Hammels was just as stingy for the Royals. He balked home his only run allowed in the sixth when Altuve was at the plate. Nori Aoki scored the game's first run.
Although stuck with a no-decision, McCullers' lasting seven frames was a big lift for a tiring bullpen. Will Harris pitched the eighth and was rewarded with the win while Chris Devenski completed the ninth.
In other news, the Astros put ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel back on the disabled list with his sore neck being used as the excuse although he was displaying flu-like symptoms Wednesday when his start was scratched. It was reported he will miss at least one turn in the rotation at a time when the starting pitching is already short a few men.
The Astros could wait no longer on top pitching prospect Francis Martes who was promoted from AAA Fresno despite an early injury of his own and less than stellar statistics (0-2, 5.29 ERA). Martes, a 21-year-old Dominican, was acquired along with Marisnick in the 2014 trade that sent Jarred Cosart to Miami. He was Houston's minor league pitcher of the year last season and the subject of regular trade talk this winter.
The Astros return to Minute Maid Park on Friday to open a weekend series with Albert Pujols and the Angels, starting at 7:10 Central. Matt Shoemaker (5-3), who has already lost twice to the Astros this year, will pitch for Anaheim against Brad Peacock (3-0), who has emerged as a dependable arm when the Astros have given him a chance to reclaim what was once a promising career.
- Bob Hulsey