The magic formula: Royals score four runs and get a win at Houston
So it was a night for firsts.
It was the Royals’ first road win of 2014. It was Yordano Ventura’s first game he lasted past six innings.
And, of course, it was Ventura’s first win of his career. Ventura started three games last season and never made it past the sixth inning. He started once this season against Tampa Bay and shut out the Rays on two hits but the Royals, of course, gave him no run support in a 1-0 loss.
But on Tuesday, the Royals pushed across four runs and won 4-2. The Royals’ magic number is, of course, four. They were 64-13 last season when scoring four runs or more and already are 5-0 when hitting the mark this year.
— Yordano is tough mentally. Ventura could have gotten messed up in the first inning. With runners on first and third and two out, Ventura tried to pick off the runner at first and threw it wild, allowing an Astros run to score. But Ventura struck out the next hitter to contain the damage. In the bottom of the seventh, Matt Dominguez singled to lead off. After a strikeout, Carlos Corporan, who had homered earlier, grounded out to the mound. Then Jonathan Villar walked on a 3-2 pitch, and suddenly the Astros had the lead run at home. But Ventura got Dexter Fowler to hit a grounder to first.
— Moose defense. Ok, third baseman Mike Moustakas has been struggling at the plate, although he did line one just foul that would have been a home run. But Moose did make two great plays in the field in the bottom of the fourth — he took a hit away from Jose Altuve with a nice stop to his left, and then two hitters later, Moose made a bare-handed snatch and throw to take a hit away from Dominguez.
— Omar lifts the team. Second baseman Omar Infante truly lifted the offense in the first when he lined a home run to left field, just the second homer this season by the Royals. Infante, with runners on first and third and one out in the third, got another RBI with a slow roller to shortstop. That’s a situation where the Royals have struck out too many times or popped out, but Infante got the run home.
— Royals pitchers playing defense. The Royals are arguably the best defensive team in baseball with three Gold Glovers already and perhaps two or three more who should get the award. But their pitchers act like they’ve never practiced defense this season. James Shields bobbled a sure out Saturday that might have averted a blowout in a loss to the Twins, and Wade Davis cost the Royals the game Sunday against the Twins by throwing away a sure 1-2-3 double play. Then Ventura, with runners on first and third and two out in the first inning Tuesday, mysteriously tried to pick off slow-footed Juan Castro at first. Ventura threw it away and allowed an unearned run to score. The Astros, needing all the help they can, got a freebie.
— Alex out of it. The Royals tried their best to get a big inning in the fifth. With one out, Norichika Aoki singled. Infante, who could have swung at several border-line pitches, which is typical of the Royals, instead coaxed a walk. Eric Hosmer swung at ball four on a 3-1 pitch almost in the dirt, but still worked a walk on the next pitch. Struggling Billy Butler finally lofted a ball, a sac fly to right-center. It still seemed that the Royals would get more but Alex Gordon, sitting on a 2-0 pitch, hit a weak fly to short left field. You would hope that Gordon would wait on a pitch that he could really drive as the Astros were on the ropes — but Gordon let them off the hook.
— Billy blues. Yes, Butler drove in a huge run. But in the third when the Royals threatened to bust the game open, Butler grounded out to third with Hosmer on second and two out. Billy now has grounded out in roughly 75 percent of his at-bats, according to Fangraphs.com.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.