KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Kansas City Royals whipped out the same formula that carried them to last year’s World Series to turn back the Houston Astros and tie their AL Division Series at a game apiece.
Some clutch hitting. Stingy defense. An unflappable bullpen.
Even a little help from replay.
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”Just battling,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. ”That’s what this team does so well.”
The Royals rallied from a three-run deficit Friday, getting a go-ahead single from Ben Zobrist in the seventh inning, and then watched Wade Davis and the bullpen make it stand in a 5-4 victory that brought back memories of their nip-and-tuck postseason of a year ago.
The Royals knotted the game at 4 off Scott Kazmir and relievers Oliver Perez and Josh Fields in the sixth. Kansas City took the lead in the seventh when Alcides Escobar led off with a triple against Will Harris (0-1) and Zobrist followed with his single through the left side.
Kelvin Herrera (1-0) and Ryan Madson each tossed a scoreless inning for the Royals, and Davis came on to close it – though the real drama was only beginning.
Davis walked Preston Tucker with one out, and speedy Carlos Gomez came in as a pinch-runner. Davis snapped a throw to Hosmer at first, and he neatly snagged it on one hop as Gomez made a dive back to the bag. Gomez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon review.
”That play that Hos made on the pickoff, I don’t know if there’s a lot of first basemen that can make that play,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”It was tremendous.”
Jose Altuve then grounded out to end it, giving Davis the save.
It was a crucial victory considering what awaits Kansas City in Game 3 on Sunday: Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who was 15-0 at home this season. Edinson Volquez will start for Kansas City.
”We were in position to win that game. Their bullpen did a very good job of shutting us down,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. ”We’ve got some work to do to win this series. It’s going to be a good series. These are two really good teams.”
Two starters acquired with October in mind, Kazmir and Royals counterpart Johnny Cueto, pitched mostly to a stalemate Friday, which meant the outcome hinged on the bullpens. Kansas City’s relief corps was simply better, preserving the first win by a home team this postseason.
”They compete,” said Salvador Perez, who homered for the Royals. ”Pretty good stuff.”
Colby Rasmus homered, doubled and drove in two runs for Houston, becoming the first player in major league history with an extra-base hit in his first six postseason games. George Springer had a pair of RBIs after hitting a solo shot in the series opener.
”Just to let it slip away late is kind of a downer,” Astros reliever Tony Sipp said. ”We had a lead late and let it slip away. We had the momentum going.”
The Astros jumped on Cueto right from the start, just as they did Yordano Ventura in Game 1 on Thursday night. Rasmus doubled in a run in the first inning, and Springer added a two-run knock in the second as restless Royals fans began to shower their ace with boos.
Perez got one back for Kansas City with his homer to left in the bottom half, but Rasmus matched him with his third home run in three games this postseason.
Cueto finally settled in, but it looked as if it would be too late. Kazmir allowed a run in the third, but otherwise had Kansas City off balance until the sixth inning.
Still trailing 4-2, Lorenzo Cain got the Royals’ tying rally started with a double, and Hinch called for Oliver Perez. He allowed back-to-back singles and a walk to leave the bases loaded for Fields, who walked Salvador Perez on four pitches to tie the game.
When the Royals took the lead the following inning, their shutdown bullpen made it stick.
”I’m happy we’re going home,” Hinch said. ”We’ve got home-field advantage for the rest of this series. We have to take care of business in our own yard.”
Astros rookie Carlos Correa fouled a pitched off the inside of his back knee in the fifth inning, and for a while appeared as if he might leave the game. He remained in and struck out, but came back with a single off Herrera in the seventh.
Keuchel threw six shutout innings in the Astros’ wild-card win over the Yankees, and tossed eight shutout frames against the Royals in June. Volquez tossed two scoreless innings of relief in Kansas City’s regular-season finale in Minnesota to tune up for the playoffs.