More like it: Shields, Royals slam the door on Astros for the sweep

James Shields gave up just four hits and one run over eight innings while striking out 12 Thursday night in Houston.

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Yes, it was only the Astros.

But the Royals certainly needed the Astros after that awful stumble in Minnesota last weekend. And at least the Royals didn’t fumble away a series against a lesser opponent (as they did last year in Houston).

This time, the Royals took care of business. Or, more accurately, James Shields did. Shields dominated the Astros, going eight strong innings in a relatively routine 5-1 win for the Royals, now 7-7 and heading home for three against the Twins.

3 UP

— Big Game James blows ’em away. This was about as dominant as we’ve seen Shields. He gave up just four hits and one run in eight innings while striking out 12 — his most strikeouts in a game as a Royal. At one point, Shields struck out seven straight. (The Royals’ record is eight straight by the legendary Blake Stein.) On the night, Royals pitchers struck out 13, a new season high. Royals pitchers had set season highs in the first two games of the series by striking out 12 each time.

— Esky comes through again. Remember that big three-run double that Alcides Escobar hit against the Rays in the first homestand that won a game? Well, Esky was back at it Thursday. He drilled a two-run double to right-center in the fourth inning that extended the Royals’ lead to 4-0. Nice to see Esky (.250) off to at least a decent start in 2014.

— Moving Billy Butler to sixth. Skipper Ned Yost takes a lot of heat from some of the fan base, but even those fans should be glad Yost dropped the slumping Butler to sixth in the order. Sal Perez is the new cleanup hitter. Butler did look a little more relaxed Thursday night, hitting two balls hard, including one for a single. He also drew a walk by taking two tempting pitches on 2-1 and 3-1 counts — that’s the Billy we know.

3 DOWN

— Lorenzo Cain and the injury blues. Man, Cain sure is fun to watch play in center field. If the Royals could just keep him on the field. Cain was back on the 15-day disabled list with a grade one groin strain (the least severe kind) on Thursday. He injured the groin trying to reach on an infield single in the ninth inning Wednesday. Cain also said that while he hoped to be back in 15 days, he wasn’t going to rush his return. Hmmm.

— To bunt or not to bunt. We all know the sabermetric people are generally violently opposed to bunting. But even they had to grimace when Escobar came up in the second inning with runners on first and second and none out, and promptly rolled into a double play instead of bunting and advancing the runners. Yost gets grief for his penchant for calling for sacrifice bunts and then the one time he doesn’t order a bunt….

The Royals, by the way, now have hit into 15 double plays.

— Zip it, buddy. Did you catch Jason Castro of the Astros jawing with the home-plate umpire after being called out on strikes in the bottom of the sixth? The strike-three call was clearly in the zone, so Castro actually might have been barking about an earlier call (strike two was borderline). But nonetheless, Castro looked like he had no chance to hit Shields anyway and he shouldn’t have been arguing. And didn’t you love the Royals’ ace shouting something at Castro as Shields headed to the dugout?

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.