A well-placed grounder, which turned into a game-winning double, arrived too late Friday night to end James Shields’ run of tough luck, but the Royals ran their winning streak to three with a 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
Billy Butler yanked a one-out RBI grounder past third in the eighth inning that produced the go-ahead run. David Lough, who earlier turned in the game’s top defensive play, later added an RBI double.
And with that, like a slot machine’s bells jangling, the Royals had reached their now-magical four-run threshold. The Royals are 19-5 when they score at least four runs.
When Greg Holland closed out the victory for his 11th save in 13 chances, the Royals (26-32) had their first three-game winning streak since a four-game run from April 30 to May 5.
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The two-run eighth, which came against Astros relievers Wesley Wright (0-2) and Josh Fields, simply came too late to reward Shields for his continued excellence.
The victory, instead, went to Kelvin Herrera (3-4) who inherited a 2-2 tie from Shields to start the eighth inning.
After Herrera worked a one-two-three inning, the Astros went to their bullpen for Wright in relief of Jordan Lyles.
Eric Hosmer won a left-on-left battle against Wright by looping a leadoff single into center. That prompted another Houston pitching switch — to Fields, who retired Salvy Perez on a foul pop to first.
But Butler yanked an 0-2 fastball past third for an RBI double and a 3-2 lead. Hosmer scored from first as the ball slowed once it got through the infield.
The ball couldn’t have been placed better.
Elliot Johnson replaced Butler as a pinch-runner and went to third on Lorenzo Cain’s grounder to second before Lough served an RBI double into short left-center field.
That was plenty for Holland.
The Royals had Shields positioned for a victory. They led 2-1 when Marwin Gonzalez, who had earlier grounded into two inning-ending double plays, opened the seventh with a single to right.
A wild pitch moved Gonzalez to second. Shields struck out Brandon Barnes before Gonzalez moved to third on Trevor Crowe’s grounder to second.
Shields scrambled out of several jams, but not this one. Jason Castro pumped a 2-2 fastball into the right-center gap for a game-tying double. The ball hadn’t even touched down when Shields whipped his arm in frustration.
Shields ended the inning by striking out Martinez, but that run was sufficient to extend Shields’ winless streak to seven starts (four losses, three no-decisions) when he didn’t return for the eighth.
He has six quality starts and a 2.65 ERA in that span.
Lyles also settled for a tough no-decision. He yielded a two-run homer to Perez but nothing further in seven innings.
The Astros had Shields in trouble all night. Example: He pitched out of a first-and-third jam with two outs in the first inning by striking out former Tampa Bay teammate Carlos Pena.
The Astros threatened again in the second when Chris Carter led off with a walk, went to second on a sacrifice and to third on Matt Dominguez’s one-out single through the left side
But Shields got just what he needed when Gonzalez hit a routine grounder to short, which resulted in an inning-ending double play.
There was no denying Houston in the third after Barnes led off with a single through the left side. Crowe followed with a drive into the right-center gap.
Barnes scored and, when shortstop Alcides Escobar chose (for whatever reason) to throw the relay to the plate...Crowe reached third with a triple.
The Royals shortened their infield, but Shields stuck out the next two hitters. The infield retreated and overshifted for Pena, who also struck out. So the Astros settled for one run.
Houston got its leadoff hitter aboard for fourth straight inning when Carter started the fourth with a line single to left. Ronny Cedeno followed with a sharp grounder that caromed off Shields for a single.
Cain, after a long run, couldn’t hold Dominguez’s soft floater into short center, but the Royals got a force at second because the runners had to hold in anticipation of a catch.
Shields escaped unharmed by getting Gonzalez to ground into another double play.
Houston’s missed opportunities came back to bite later in the inning when Hosmer led off with a single, the Royals’ first hit, and Perez followed with a 403-foot homer to left.
The Royals had a chance for more when Butler drove a double to right and went to third on Miguel Tejada’s two-out infield single. But Chris Getz grounded out to short.
That meant Shields took the mound with a lead for the first time in 24 innings spanning five starts. And he responded by setting down the Astros in order.
The sixth was a different matter. Pena rammed a one-out single up the middle and went to second on a wild pitch before Shields walked Carter.
Again, Houston couldn’t capitalize.
Cedeno fouled out to Perez before Lough robbed Dominguez of extra bases, and probably two RBIs, with a terrific running catch in the right-center gap.
The Royals got a two-out double from Cain in their seventh, but Lyles struck out Lough to send the game to the seventh at 2-1.