Last year, the Royals won the Wild Card Game, coming from behind to beat the Oakland Athletics. They won with a combination of speed, defense, clutch hitting, and unavoidable energy. They advanced in the playoffs with some nice power.
In tonight's game, the Houston Astros, winners of the Wild Card Game, looked uncannily like last year's Royals. They made terrific plays on defense, stole bases, made key hits, and played with tons of energy. They sprinkled power into their game as well.
This was a winning combination, as we witnessed last year. The Astros outplayed the Royals on every level, pulling out a deserved 5-2 victory in a contest lengthened by a rain delay.
Yordano Ventura immediately encountered problems in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Jose Altuve watched the first pitch sail into the zone for an easy strike, and then took an easy swing to plop the second pitch into left field for a bloop single. George Springer walked to the plate and battled hard against Ventura. Springer saw nine pitches, barely fouling off a few nasty curveballs before taking a walk. Rookie shortstop Carlos Correa worked a long, eight-pitch plate appearance and shot an opposite field single that got to Alex Rios too quickly for Altuve to score.
After 19 pitches, the bases were loaded, and no outs had been recorded.
Fortunately, the budding disaster of an inning turned out not to be a dumpster fire. Ventura induced groundouts from Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis; both groundouts produced a run, but each also resulted in an out. Ventura struck out Luis Valbuena to end the inning. 2-0, Astros.
Magic Leadoff Hitter Alcides Escobar grounded out on three pitches, surprising no one. So it goes.
For the Royals' part, they forced Houston Astros starter Collin McHugh into lots of pitches in the first inning but didn't come away with any runs. Ben Zobrist pulled a line drive single and then stole a base. Long plate appearances by Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer resulted in a pair of outs and ended the inning.
Ventura yielded another run in the top of the second, making it 3-0 Astros. After two quick outs, Jake Marisnick roped a double in the left-center. Altuve, who will probably be a little thorn in the Royals' side all series, singled to Rios. Rios approached the ball gingerly, and that initial approach is what allowed Marisnik to score.
In the bottom of the second inning, though, Kendrys Morales smashed a pitch to right field for a solo home run, moving the deficit back to two. Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and Alex Gordon were unable to continue the scoring. 3-1, Astros.
Earlier in the game, Gary Lezak, Chief Meteorologist for 41 Action News, posted this to Twitter:
This was the scene after two innings:
Whoops. Weather is hard, I guess?
The rain delay of about an hour would prompt Ned Yost to remove the shaky Ventura from the game, inserting Chris Young into his place. When the game resumed, Young struck out the side, because of course he did. Playoff baseball is the best baseball.
Then Chris Young struck out the side again. He struck out seven in a sparkling four innings.
Meanwhile, the Royals offense continued its utter misunderstanding of pitchers who don't throw hard. Except for Morales, who is a beautiful man and the strongest Cuban ever born. Morales hit his second home run off of McHugh in the fourth inning, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
Young continued his brilliance, but he yielded a solo shot to Springer. It would have been a two-run shot, but Perez threw out Altuve on a perfect throw to second base. Still, 4-2 Astros.The offense not named Kendrys Morales was a combination of terrible and unlucky. McHugh's low-velocity vexed the Royals as other low-velocity pitchers have this year. Still, the Royals managed a few baserunners but were unable to plate them. Early in the game, Altuve made a terrific diving stop on what would have been a single by Cain. In the bottom of the fifth, with Gordon and Rios on second and first base respectively, Escobar smashed a line drive to center field. Marisnick sprinted in and dove for a catch, preventing a run. Zobrist weakly grounded into the shift to end the inning. Later, Perez smashed a sharp ground ball to third base, but Valbuena was positioned well and made a great play to rob yet another Royal of a hit.
McHugh lasted six strong innings, only allowing the two runs--both home runs to Morales. Morales' third plate appearance at McHugh resulted in a rope of a line drive--right to Springer. Afterwards, lefty Tony Sipp came on in the seventh inning to defuse Moustakas, Perez, and Rios. William Harris and Oliver Perez took the eighth. Luke Gregerson closed the game. The Royals withered away with little opposition, Ryan Madson giving up a solo home run to Rasmus to pad the Astros' already unassailable lead. 5-2, Astros.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Royals send the recently-struggling Johnny Cueto to the mound in what could be the last home game of the season. Kansas City is in distinct danger of getting swept out of the playoffs. Game Three will be in Houston against Dallas Keuchel, the Cy Young candidate who has a 1.46 ERA at home, his team with a 53-28 record in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park. That is the most comfortable elimination game that could possibly exist for Houston.
Still, tomorrow still favors the Royals. Hopefully, they can turn in some Royals Devil Magic and pull out a victory.