From the Royals' perspective, yesterday was brutal. After not playing for five days, the Royals came out flat and never caught up in Thursday's ALDS opener. Game two was seen as a contest Kansas City had to have, especially with the first two games having being at home. As they have all season long, the Royals came through when things mattered most.
A sixth-inning rally helped the Royals erase an early Houston lead, electrifying Kauffman Stadium's sellout crowd and jolting the team into an all-square ALDS. A game that begin with so much frustration ended in triumph, and a 5-4 victory could eventually prove to be a turning point in what looks to be a fantastic ALDS in the making.
Much like they did on Thursday, the Astros opened game one by silencing the raucous crowd early. With two outs and a man on against Kansas City starter Johnny Cueto, Colby Rasmus walloped an RBI double over the head of Alex Rios. The trouble was only beginning for Cueto, who then loaded the bases with a bloop hit, a walk, and a puzzling bunt single by Jake Marisnick. The Astros center fielder dropped down an apparent sacrifice, but when Mike Moustakas fielded the ball, Cueto pointed to third base, which was unoccupied by a defender. The split-second look proved extremely costly when Moustakas' throw to first wound up being late.
The Astros' timely hitting continued two batters later when Springer blooped a shattered-bat flair into left field to plate two additional runs. After Salvador Perez homered in the bottom half of the second to cut the deficit to 3-1, Houston snatched the run right back when Rasmus led off the third with a 404-foot bomb to right-center field. For Rasmus, it was his third home run in as many playoff games. For the Royals, it dipped their win expectancy to 18.5% (via Fangraphs).
Just 12 innings into what was supposed to be a magical postseason, boos rained down on Kauffman Stadium. Some were meant for Rasmus while others were directed at Cueto, but only one thing was for certain - Kansas City was in deep trouble.
In the bottom half of the third, the Royals opened up their first threat against Scott Kazmir by putting runners on the corners with nobody out. A Ben Zobrist double play scored the club's second run, but silenced the rally and quieted Kauffman Stadium once again. Kazmir held the Royals hitless in the fourth and fifth innings.
All series, the Royals had narrowly missed exploiting opportunities for big innings, and you had to figure that at some point, they were going to come through. While the bats inched closer to that chance, Cueto had settled in and was keeping his team in the game. After allowing eight of the first 13 Astro hitters to reach base, Cueto finished by retiring 12 of the last 14 men he faced. He managed to get through six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. He walked three, struck out five, and used 103 pitches.
In the bottom half of the sixth inning, any frustrations about poor fortune and BABIP luck vanished amidst the team's two-run rally to tie the game. Lorenzo Cain roped a one-out double into the right-field corner. Kaxmir was yanked for lefty Oliver Perez, who made Eric Hosmer look silly by swinging at his first two offerings, both sliders way down and away. Perez' third slider didn't dip quite as much as the first two, and Hosmer somehow managed to get his bat on it, sticking his ass way out in the air in the process. The result was a hideous but productive bloop single to left field, plating Cain to cut the deficit to 4-3.
Kauffman Stadium was alive again, and faith had been restored to Royals fans. Kendrys Morales then chopped a sure-fire double play ball to the right of second base, but because of a peculiar switch, nobody was in position to grab the ball. As Hosmer sprinted to third, the crowd grew louder. Mike Moustakas then worked a five-pitch walk to load the bases with one out.
Right-hander Josh Fields entered the game to face Salvador Perez, but he couldn't find his command in time. He walked Perez on four pitches, none of which were remotely close to being strikes, to force the tying run home. He managed to evade further trouble by striking out Alex Gordon and Alex Rios, but with the Kansas City bullpen looming for the Astros offense, confidence had been restored to the team's fanbase.
Kelvin Herrera entered in the seventh inning and kept Houston off the board. In the home half of the frame, Alcides Escobar, leading off, lifted an opposite-field fly ball that got lost in the sun. The result was an inning-opening triple, and it took just two pitches for Zobrist to line a single into left field to put Kansas City in front. It was the first lead of the series for the Royals.
Five runs proved to be enough when Ryan Madson and Wade Davis closed out the game. Madson worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts. Davis induced a one-out walk, but picked off pinch-runner Carlos Gomez immediately to erase that threat. He then got Jose Altuve to ground out to end the game, knotting the ALDS at one game apiece.
Herrera earned the win. Houston reliever Will Harris took the loss, and Davis earned his first career postseason save. Kazmir's final line: 5.1 innings, five hits, three runs, and four strike outs. He threw 97 pitches.
It was a game the Royals had to have, but it's hard to say otherwise about game three on Sunday. Houston phenom Dallas Keuchel and his 15-0 home record this year will take the hill for the Astros. The Royals will counter with Edinson Volquez. Yordano Ventura, last night's starter, will start the now-official game four on Monday, which will begin at 12:07 pm CDT in Houston.
Just relax, Kansas City. It ain't over until it's over.