Kansas City Royals’ offense leads the way in 7-4 road victory at the Houston Astros

·6 min read
Kevin M. Cox/AP

The Kansas City Royals brought their offense with them on this road trip.

They’d scored six runs or more in each of their previous three games. They’d hit multiple home runs in four of their previous five. They’d gotten runs. They’d built leads. They just hadn’t gotten wins.

So the fast start the Royals’ offense enjoyed Wednesday night against one of the stingier starting pitchers in majors, Houston Astros right-hander Cristian Javier, seemed simultaneously encouraging and cruelly antagonistic.

This time, however, the Royals held off the Astros’ comeback and added insurance runs late to secure a 7-4 win in front of an announced 26,534 in the third game of a four-game set at Minute Maid Park. The victory stopped the Royals’ mini losing slide at two games.

Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi celebrated his 28th birthday and reached base four times with a pair of walks, an RBI double, a single and three runs scored.

First baseman Hunter Dozier went 2 for 3 with a home run, a double, three RBIs and a walk for the Royals (30-50).

Whit Merrifield (1 for 5) and Emmanuel Rivera (1 for 3, walk) also hit home runs for the Royals. Nicky Lopez, who started at shortstop with Bobby Witt Jr. sidelined with a hand injury, belted a ninth-inning double that started a two-run inning that gave the Royals breathing room late.

“I’m just real proud of the offense, coming out even though the last couple days we’ve got something going and then not being able to put it away,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “But to come back resilient and aggressive, and you could tell they’re believing in themselves. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Through 15 games (11 starts), Javier ranked second in the AL in opponent’s batting average (.175), third in strikeouts per 9 innings (12.27) and fourth in WHIP (0.96). In his two starts leading into the matchup with the Royals, Javier had pitched seven no-hit innings against the New York Yankees and then struck out a career-high 14 against the Los Angeles Angels.

“We tried to stay on top of his heater,” Benintendi said. “We knew that it’s got a lot of life to it and it plays up. We met before the game, had a meeting and just went over the game plan and approach and it worked out well.”

The Royals were the first team this season to score five runs or more against the Astros’ pitching staff in three consecutive games.

The Royals’ offense hasn’t just come to life during this road surge. Their bats have actually produced for at least the last month. Over the past 30 days, the Royals ranked among the top 10 in the majors in OPS (ninth, .757), slugging percentage (ninth, .429), on-base percentage (eighth, .327), triples (tied for first, nine) and walks (tied for seventh, 93).

The Royals burst out of the gate against Javier with three first-inning runs off home runs by Merrifield and Dozier. Merrifield’s homer, his fourth of the season, also increased his MLB-leading total to 22 leadoff hits this season.

Dozier’s blast came with Benintendi on base and gave the Royals a three-run advantage. They scored the first four runs of the game thanks to Rivera’s second-inning solo smash 429 feet to left-center field.

Keller played his part

Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller allowed four runs on five hits, one home run and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. The Astros had scored six runs against Royals starter Zack Greinke in the first five innings.

The Astros began chipping away against Keller with a run in the second after a leadoff walk came around to score on a two-out RBI double by Jake Meyers past Rivera down the third-base line.

Dozier restored the four-run lead in the top of the third with a blast that hit high off the left field wall before it fell back into the field of play for an RBI double. Dozier drove in three runs and had two extra-base hits in the first three innings. The Royals led 5-1.

Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez, who has been a thorn in the side of the Royals throughout the series (and opposing pitchers in general this season), started a two-run fourth inning against Keller with a ground-rule double. He scored on Kyle Tucker’s RBI single and a Meyers RBI groundout tacked on a second run to make the score 5-3 after four innings.

Keller threw 37 pitches to get through the fourth.

“He was coming down to about his last hitter in the fourth,” Matheny said. “He was able to give us a little bit more. We have to push our starters sometimes, and he did a great job. He got so close to getting through that sixth inning.”

Keller had thrown 96 pitches going into the sixth inning, but he recorded two outs on three pitches to start the sixth. Keller then got within one strike of retiring the side in order in the sixth, but Aledmys Diaz blasted a 2-2 fastball into the Crawford Box seats behind the left field wall. That solo homer made it a one-run game and concluded Keller’s outing.

“I had a little conversation with Mike to get back out there in the sixth,” Keller said. “He told me ‘hitter-for-hitter.’ So I went out there and went right after guys, got two quick outs and then an unfortunate home run. I’m pretty happy with being able to get into the sixth, especially with how my pitch count was in the fourth.”

Keller (4-9) picked up his third win in his past four starts.

Keller used his four-seam fastball 35% of the time, the highest usage of any pitch in his outing. He averaged 95 mph with that pitch.

“I felt like we had a really good approach against them going into the day, tried to stay aggressive,” Keller said. “I felt like at times we got to the slider when we needed to, but for the most part I feel like we threw a lot of fastballs today, worked both sides of the plate. I felt really good with my sinker. So I just tried to keep them on the ground.”

Jose Cuas got the final out of the sixth inning after he gave up a single and back-to-back walks to load the bases.

Dylan Coleman pitched a scoreless seventh, as did Taylor Clarke in the eighth.

One run separated the teams until the top of the ninth, when Lopez rifled a double over the head of Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker with one out. With two outs, Benintendi lined an RBI double into center field to give the Royals a 6-4 edge. Benintendi then scored on MJ Melendez’s RBI single.

After the Royals scored two insurance runs in the top of the ninth, Scott Barlow gave up one hit in the ninth and struck out two to earn his 13th save.

“Against that team over there in this ballpark, you have to keep adding on,” Dozier said. “They’re a very good team over there, and we have to keep adding on because we know that they’re going to come back or at least put together good at-bats.”

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