Royals complete sweep of host Astros
HOUSTON -- It didn’t take long for Royals ace right-hander James Shields to tip his hand on Thursday night, to put the Houston Astros on alert in discovering just how difficult of a task they were set to face at the plate.
Shields nearly matched his season total for strikeouts Thursday night while hurling eight dominant innings, and Kansas City completed a three-game series sweep of the Astros with a 5-1 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Shields (1-2) allowed one run on four hits -- all singles -- and two walks while fanning 12 batters, including seven in succession starting with Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler leading off the sixth inning.
Astros left fielder Alex Presley snapped that string with his one-out infield single in the eighth before Shields struck out Fowler for a third time with Presley and shortstop Jonathan Villar on first and second. Shields closed his night by getting right fielder George Springer to fly out to right.
Blake Stein holds the Royals record for consecutive strikeouts, fanning eight in succession against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 17, 2001.
”I was just pounding the strike zone today and being really aggressive with my fastball and really locating and being on the same page with Salvy (catcher Salvador Perez),“ Shields said. ”With that kind of combination and our defense playing the way it did today, it’s a nice win for us.
“I knew I struck out the side twice (in the sixth and seventh), but I‘m not really trying to focus on that, I‘m just trying to focus on getting outs. We were pounding the strike zone and getting strike one and getting ahead of the hitters and that’s an aggressive team over there, and when you get ahead in the count and make your pitches, you’re successful.”
Shields entered his fourth start of this season with 14 strikeouts over 19 innings of work. The Royals (6-6) began the series winless on the road before limiting the Astros (5-11) to seven runs over 29 innings.
Presley and Villar were the only Houston starters not to whiff against Shields. Fowler, Springer, first baseman Marc Krauss and third baseman Matt Dominguez finished a combined 2-for-15 with nine strikeouts.
Astros right-hander Scott Feldman (2-1), making his first start off the bereavement list, allowed more hits to the Royals through his first five innings (eight) than he had in his first three starts combined (seven).
“They were putting the bat on the ball early and often,” Feldman said. “It was tough to get some swing and misses.”
Kansas City scratched across an unearned run in the first inning before third baseman Mike Moustakas delivered an RBI single in the second that scored left fielder Alex Gordon and doubled the Royals’ lead to 2-0.
Kansas City doubled its lead again in the fourth, with shortstop Alcides Escobar drilling a two-out, two-run double to the left-center field gap. Perez added an RBI double in the fifth for a 5-0 lead that seemed gratuitous given how exceptional Shields was pitching.
”After the first inning, the second inning he was getting the job done quick,“ Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”He kept his pitch count down so from the second, third inning on I‘m thinking we’ve got a chance to go nine here if the pitch count stays manageable.
“He started to lose it just a little bit in the eighth inning. His command started to tail off just a little bit but he did a great job. He had everything going.”
Shields finally showed some vulnerability in the fifth, surrendering a single to Dominguez after issuing a leadoff walk to designated hitter Chris Carter. However, Dominguez was gunned down vying for second base, essentially eliminating the potential for a big inning.
Carter later scored on a sacrifice fly to left, with Gordon producing a spectacular diving catch. That was the lone whiff of hope for Houston.
“It’s just not smart, obviously,” Porter said of Dominguez’s mental error. “I went and asked Matt Dominguez, ‘Do you think you’re invisible? You are down 5-0 and the ball is right in front of you.’ So, to answer (the) question, no, I don’t like it. There was nothing smart about it, and next question.”
NOTES: Royals manager Ned Yost dropped DH Billy Butler to sixth in the batting order, the first time this season he hit someplace other than cleanup. Butler singled in the 10th inning Wednesday night, snapping an 0-for-19 skid dating back to April 9. ... The Astros selected LHP Raul Valdes from Triple-A Oklahoma City and optioned LHP Kevin Chapman to the RedHawks. Chapman was 1-0 with a 12.27 ERA in six appearances with Houston. ... Royals CF Lorenzo Cain was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain. LHP Justin Marks replaced Cain on the 25-man roster.