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Home Run Herrera strikes again: Astros 6, Royals 1

The Royals have a serious problem with their closer.

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It was one of the weirdest games of the year in Kansas City, but it ended the way far too many of them have ended this year: a Royals loss.

“Home Run Herrera,” which was a nickname started in 2013 during Kelvin Herrera’s struggles to find his groove, is back again. It took an absence of nearly four years while Herrera took his time as one of baseball’s best relievers. But it’s back now. And he totally killed his team on Friday night, where the Royals lost 6-1 to the Houston Astros.

Just like we all expected, Lance McCullers, one of the AL’s best pitchers, and Jason Hammel, one of the worst, dueled for most of the evening. Both pitchers were so sharp that there really isn’t anything to report on from the first five innings of play. The Astros and Royals, who had scored a total of 38 runs in three games this series, combined for no runs on just three hits through that point.

In the sixth, things got weird. Old friend Nori Aoki led off with a single. Two batters later, Josh Reddick singled and put runners on the corners with one away. Hammel, focused on the prospect of Reddick stealing, started a pickoff move but then sort of just...lost his balance or something, causing him to bobble the ball. You can’t do that. That’s a balk. Aoki trotted home from third. 1-0, Astros.

Just in case anybody needed another reason to confuse Jason Hammel with Luke Hochevar, he lost his focus and balked at the worst possible time.

But that’s about all the bad you can say about Hammel, who was marvelous with the exception of that one mistake. The prospect of Jason Hammel and his 5.93 ERA/1.60 WHIP facing the best offense in baseball was not a promising one, but he silenced his doubters with a dynamite performance. I was expecting a meltdown in the seventh following the balk, but he sat down the Astros in order.

Hammel’s final line: 7.0 innings, four hits, four strikeouts, and the one run. He was efficient with his pitches, needing just 85 of them to get 21 outs.

But by the point in the game when Hammel left the mound for the final time, the Royals offense had yet to collect a base hit against Lance McCullers. The Astros starter kept his bid going through 6.1 innings, but he fell behind Lorenzo Cain 3-0, and Cain punished him by smashing a triple into the left-center gap.

Up came the $200 million man Eric Hosmer with a golden opportunity. “Stay calm and collected, and wait for your pitch,” preached Rex Hudler and Ryan Lefebvre. Do you think Eric Hosmer followed that advice? Hell no he didn’t! Instead, he did exactly what he tries to do far too often: hit 700-foot home runs onto I-70 and fail epically in the process. He swung at four of the five pitches he saw, none of which were close to being in his wheelhouse, and struck out on a ball in the dirt. $200 million my ass.

With two outs, Mike Moustakas picked up Hosmer by coming through with an RBI single to right field. It tied the game and ruined McCullers’ shutout, which delighted the Kauffman crowd.

The contest then became a battle of the bullpens. Joakim Soria was electric in the eighth frame, striking out the side in order. Will Harris took care of the Royals in the home half of the eighth.

Kelvin Herrera took over in the ninth, and he promptly threw five straight balls before Jose Altuve absolutely murdered a two-run, tie-breaking home run. Then Carlos Correa tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly. In the blink of an eye (12 pitches to be exact), it went from 1-1 to 4-1.

Then Peter Moylan came in and poured lots of gasoline onto the fire Herrera lit, so the Astros stretched it out to 6-1. Who cares. Here’s the full Houston ninth inning, if you’re curious: walk, homer, triple, sac fly, single, double, walk, single, out, out.

That’s seven home runs given up by Kelvin Herrera already this year in 25 games. From 2014-16, he allowed 11 home runs... in 214 games. His ERA is up to 5.55. His WHIP is nearing 1.40. He’s...he’s been really bad.

I don’t know what you do here. Some Royals fans want Joakim Soria to take over as the closer, but a) most of these are the same people that wanted Soria run out of town last year, and b) that’s incredibly un-Yost like to do. But something is very wrong with Kelvin Herrera, undoubtedly one of the best relievers in the history of the franchise, and the Royals will not get off the ground until his issues get resolved.

Tomorrow: the Royals make a rare trip to San Diego for a three-game set with the terrible (23-38) Padres. Erik Skoglund will oppose Jhoulys Chacin in the first game tomorrow, which doesn’t start until 9:10 CDT. This kicks off a nine-game trip against three terrible teams, so the Royals have more chances to climb back into the AL Central.

But man, tonight hurt.