Houston takes two of three in the series

Astros take series from Royals with walk-off win in Bregman's return

Astros' Alex Bregman
Alex Bregman made his long-awaited return to the Astros' lineup on Wednesday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Alex Bregman made his long-awaited return to the Astros' lineup on Wednesday.

With a win Tuesday night to even this three-game set at a game apiece, the Astros put out a revitalized lineup on Wednesday afternoon to try and get the series victory. Despite the Royals getting a big blow in the late stages of the game, Houston would come away winners in extra innings.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 6, Royals 5

Astros' Record: 75-52, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Kendall Graveman (5-0)

Losing Pitcher: Joel Payamps (0-3)

Houston goes in front after trading homers

After scoreless frames in the first and second, Martin Maldonado would start the scoring for the day with a one-out solo homer in the bottom of the third, giving the Astros a 1-0 lead. It was short-lived, as Salvador Perez would match that to lead off the fourth, tying the game. Yordan Alvarez responded in the bottom of the inning, though, getting the third solo homer in as many half-innings, putting Houston back on top 2-1.

The score held there through the fifth inning, then in the bottom of the sixth, Alex Bregman recorded his first RBI in his first game rejoining the team from the IL, getting a two-out double to score a run and extend the lead to 3-1.

McCullers Jr. has a rough end to an otherwise great start

Meanwhile, on the mound for Houston was Lance McCullers Jr., who, other than that solo homer back in the fourth, was doing exceptionally well. After holding the Royals to their one run over the first six, he came back to the mound with the 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh, looking to get through it to finish his day.

Things unraveled for him, though, as after two quick outs, he would load the bases on a single and two walks, ending his day as Dusty Baker would bring in Cristian Javier to try and get out of the jam. Instead, Javier would allow a go-ahead grand slam on his first pitch, with three of the runs charged to McCullers to dramatically degrade his line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 Hr, 107 P.

Astros take the series with walk-off win in extras

Down 5-3 after the grand slam, Houston started to claw their way back into it in the bottom of the seventh. Jake Meyers led the inning off with a single, got into scoring position on a groundout, then scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz to make it a one-run game. Javier, who allowed the big blow in the seventh, returned and retired the side in order in the top of the eighth to keep it 5-4.

Houston tied things up in the bottom of the eighth, getting a runner to second base before bringing in Michael Brantley to pinch-hit, who would deliver a game-tying RBI single. After a scoreless ninth inning on both sides, Kansas City started the top of the tenth with their free runner on second but would do nothing with it as Kendall Graveman would get through the inning unscathed. That left the door open for the Astros, and with Bregman on second to start the bottom of the tenth, he moved to third on a Kyle Tucker single, then scored on an RBI groundout by Jake Meyers to win the game and the series.

Up Next: Houston will enjoy a day off tomorrow as they pick up a three-game series with the Rangers on Friday in Arlington at 7:05 PM. The pitching matchup for the opener is Jake Odorizzi (6-6, 4.52 ERA) for the Astros and Lordan Lyles (6-10, 5.33 ERA) for the Rangers.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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