HOUSTON — The best thing said about the Royals in their three days at Minute Maid Park is it could have been worse. But for a late rally Tuesday, they might have suffered a sweep against the American League’s worst club.
It was bad enough, though.
The Royals sent their ace to the mound in Wednesday’s finale and, as usually happens when James Shields pitches, their attack turtled and resulted in a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros.
Shields gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to J.D. Martinez, and it was sufficient to send him to his fifth loss in seven decisions despite a 2.47 ERA. He struck out seven and walked none in seven innings.
Houston got its final run in the eighth inning against reliever Kelvin Herrera on Jason Castro’s two-out RBI double over the head of right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
The Royals’ offensive futility peaked earlier in the eighth after Chris Getz led off by working a walk from Travis Blackley, who had pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of starter Jordan Lyles.
That brought Hector Ambriz into the game to face Alcides Escobar, who failed to execute a sacrifice bunt. Getz then got himself trapped between first and second — and ran himself into an out.
Ambriz retired the next two hitters before Jose Veras, armed with a two-run cushion, closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth for his eighth save in 10 chances.
Lyles (2-1) limited the Royals to one run and six hits in six innings before handing a 2-1 lead to Blackley. Lyles struck out three and walked one.
The loss completed a 3-6 road trip that began with two victories in three games at Los Angeles before suffering three one-run losses in Oakland. The Royals’ two losses to the Astros were also by one run.
The Royals also dipped back below .500 at 21-22 as now head home for six games — four against the Angels before the I-70 Series resumes Monday with the first of four games against Cardinals — the latter two in St. Louis.
Wednesday’s game pretty much summed up Shields’ season. He has nine quality starts in his 10 outings, but the Royals are averaging just six runs in his five losses.
Alex Gordon extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the first inning when he lined a two-out single into center. Billy Butler then grounded a 3-0 pitch to short, which resulted in a force at second.
The Astros then stung Shields for two runs. Castro flicked a two-out single into center, and Martinez followed by rifling a 2-2 slider into the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
The Houston second opened with a gift double when Francoeur appeared to lose Carlos Pena’s line drive in the lights. Shields pitched around it by getting a strikeout, a foul pop and a grounder to second.
Francoeur opened the third with a triple onto the incline in center field known as Tal’s Hill (after former club president Tal Smith, who imported the idea from the terrace at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati).
George Kottaras followed with an RBI double into the left-center gap. Kottaras moved to third on Getz’s slow grounder to second, which prompted the Astros to shorten their infield.
Escobar couldn’t take advantage. His grounder to third forced Kottaras to hold.
Lyles walked Gordon on four pitches but stranded runners at first and third by winning an 11-pitch battle with Butler who struck out on a slider that dived out of the zone.
Martinez ripped a ball into the left-field corner to start the Houston fourth but tried to stretch a single into a double — and learned why Gordon is a Gold Glover. It was Gordon’s fifth assist of the season and third in five games.
The Royals mounted a two-out threat in the fifth on singles by Getz and Escobar, but Gordon hit a check-swing hopper back to the mound for an easy third out.
Lorenzo Cain got a two-out single in the sixth but was thrown out stealing when Mike Moustakas took a 3-1 fastball for a strike right down the middle.