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Astros 5, Royals 2: Astros Roll To 1-0 Series Lead

The Astros perfectly executed their unorthodox brand of baseball by striking out a ton, hitting timely home runs, pitching brilliantly, and playing excellent defense.

Jose Altuve was 2-2 with an RBI and a run scored by the end of the top of the second inning and finished the game 3-5.
Jose Altuve was 2-2 with an RBI and a run scored by the end of the top of the second inning and finished the game 3-5.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What Happened

Immediately out the gate, the Astros were threatening.  Jose Altuve led off the game with a sharp single to left field, George Springer followed with a walk on a 3-2 breaking ball off the plate, and Carlos Correa knocked a solid single to right field - his first career post-season hit, setting an Astros franchise record for the youngest player to ever record a hit in the postseason - to load the bases.  Then, beyond the Astros' three best hitters, the difficulty to hit with runners in scoring position presented itself again.  Colby Rasmus scalded a laser beam ground ball into the shift, causing second baseman Ben Zobrist to have to leave his feet to stop the ball.  The Royals second baseman got up and threw out Rasmus, conceding the run at home in Altuve, and just like that it was 1-0 Astros.  Then Evan Gattis grounded out weakly to short stop Alcides Escobar, who threw to first to barely nab Gattis as George Springer crossed the plate to run the score to 2-0, Astros.  After that, Luis Valbuena struck out to end the inning.  Ventura needed 22 pitches to get through the first inning.

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Collin McHugh strode to the mound as the owner of a 6.47 first inning ERA and induced a ground ball out from lead off man Alcides Escobar, allowed a single swiftly followed by a stolen base to Zobrist, and then held on to get Lorenzo Cain to ground out sharply to third base and Eric Hosmer to line out softly to first.  Through one inning, McHugh's pitch count sat at 26 pitches.

In the top of the second inning, Chris Carter flew out to right field on the fifth pitch of the at bat, Jason Castro struck out feebly, and then Jake Marisnick laced an 0-2 fastball on the outer third of the plate that was moving back towards his barrel into left center field for a double.  Jose Altuve then flipped a single to right field that scored Jake Marisnick from second.  Jose Altuve moved into second easily on the throw, but George Springer bounced out slowly to Escobar at short stop.  The damage had been done, however, and the Astros led 3-0 against the Royals in their home stadium in front of a stunned crowd.  It appeared that a brief, passing rain shower which had begun during the bottom of the first made the ball just a bit slippery, as Alex Rios had just the briefest delay as he had to get a slightly better grip on the ball before firing it to home plate slightly off line.

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Immediately off the bat in the bottom of the inning, Kendrys Morales took a pitch from Collin McHugh and deposited it just inside the right field foul pole and approximately six rows deep.  But "just barely a home run" is still a home run, and the score was 3-1 Royals.  Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez both dropped ground outs to Chris Carter at first base, and then the skies opened up and the deluge began.  McHugh was able to get Alex Gordon to ground out to Altuve amid a backdrop of distanced thunder and lightning, but it became clear quickly that the game would be delayed if the rain didn't abate soon, and sure enough, the game entered a rain delay at the close of the bottom of the second inning.

While the smokers in the crowd ran outside to relieve some stress, a scary event transpired in Kaufmann stadium as a grounds crew member slipped in the wet grass while running the tarp out onto the field and was very nearly crushed under the bulk of the perpetually evil and mean spirited tarp.  It covered the grounds crew member to the left knee before the tarp was successfully stopped, and he grimaced and shouted in clear pain...however, the word from the broadcast booth was that he was not seriously injured.  It was a moment to breathe a sigh of relief for anyone who witnessed it.

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After a rain delay that lasted approximately 48 minutes, Ned Yost elected to remove Yordano Ventura after 42 pitches and just two innings.  The analysts - Pete Rose, mainly - on Fox Sports One were perplexed by this decision, but given the adrenaline high and mixed results followed by a somewhat extended rain delay lull for a very emotional pitcher who feeds on synergy, the move seemed to make sense to this Astros fan.  Thirty-six year old journeyman Chris Young, who occupied a long relief role admirably this season with a 3.06 ERA, but his FIP (4.52) and xFIP (5.33) probably tell the story a little better in his case.  He's a 6' 10" tall right handed pitcher who consistently throws in the mid 80's with a cement mixer for a slider, and his challenge was to resume play in the game facing Carlos Correa.

Correa, for his part, had quite the challenge, as Young's height and delivery add deception to his otherwise underwhelming repertoire.  Carlos struck out on six pitches.  Colby Rasmus worked the count full before walking, and Evan Gattis followed with a strikeout on a filthy slow motion slider in the dirt.  On the first pitch to Valbuena, Rasmus successfully stole second base on the slow-to-home, slow-throwing Young and Salvador Perez.  Somehow, some way, Luis Valbuena then struck out on a 3/4 swing at a meatball well up and out of the zone on a check swing appeal to the third base umpire.

McHugh reclaimed the mound for the first time in almost an hour and promptly struck out Alex Rios and induced ground balls from Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist for a very quick bottom of the third inning.

And then Chris Young, that soft throwing statistical anomaly, faced Chris Carter, Jason Castro and Jake Marisnick in the top of the fourth inning and struck all three of them out.  His five consecutive strikeouts to that point set a new Kansas City Royals postseason record, and was one short of the all time MLB postseason record of six consecutive strikeouts.

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Collin McHugh then came back and needed just eight pitches to mow through the bottom of the fourth inning.  Unfortunately, the seventh pitch of the inning was a fat, flat fastball literally right down the middle of the plate that Kendrys Morales deposited in the bleachers for his second home run of the game.

Jose Altuve led off the top of the fifth inning with a single to momentarily quiet the Kaufmann stadium faithful, but was almost immediately erased when Young through what looked to be the equivalent of a pitch out that was up and out of the zone over the plate, as Salvador Perez was already up on his feet and firing a strike to second base to nail Altuve and enliven the crowd once more.  That out would look huge immediately following, as George Springer would drive an 88 mile per hour fastball on the outside part of the plate 422 feet into the left field bleachers to make the score 4-2 Astros.

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The ball launched off Springer's bat at 109 miles per hour, according to StatCast.  Carlos Correa followed with a weak ground out back to Young, and Colby Rasmus struck out swinging to give Young an incredibly improbable seventh strikeout in his three innings of work to that point.

Salvador Perez led off the bottom of the fifth with a fly out to center field.  Alex Gordon then ripped a single to right field over the shift before Alex Rios walked on five pitches to turn the lineup back over to the top.  Alcides Escobar then laid a sinking line drive into center field that Jake Marisnick made an excellent diving catch to rob and save a run.

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That brought Zobrist to the plate with two outs and two runners on, and after a gorgeous curve ball that barely caught the bottom inside corner of the strike zone and a foul on a cutter in on his hands, Zobrist rolled over on a cutter on the outside corner and grounded it into the shift to Carlos Correa, who threw to Carter at first to end the inning.

Evan Gattis lined a slider into Alex Gordon's wandering glove in his lead off at bat in the top of the sixth inning.  Luis Valbuena followed and battled through an eight pitch at bat and ultimately worked his way to a walk.  Chris Carter then absolutely ripped a 1-1 pitch into left field for a single, bringing Dave Eiland jogging to the mound to play for time as Kelvin Herrera warmed in the bullpen.  Savvy Astros fans could read the writing on the wall as the vaunted back end of the Royals pen prepared to enter the fray, and many butts were on the edge of many seats as Jason Castro batted with two runners aboard and with the Astros in dire need of insurance.

Jason Castro bounced into an inning ending double play.

That would prove to be the end of the night for Chris Young, who looked much more like Nolan Ryan in slow motion than like the 36 year old journeyman in his four innings of work.  His final stat line included only three hits, one run on a solo home run by George Springer, two walks, and a whopping seven strikeouts.

Lorenzo Cain led off the bottom of the sixth inning by flying out to the warning track in right field.  Eric Hosmer then worked through a six pitch at bat before bouncing out weakly to Jose Altuve.

That set the table for yet another showdown with Kendrys Morales - again with the bases empty.

The first pitch Collin McHugh threw was a fastball at 93 miles per hour on the high and away corner before strike two (swinging) was a 92 mile per hour fastball where McHugh climbed the ladder up out of the zone and Morales followed. After Morales watched two pitches - a curve in the dirt and another fastball up and out of the zone at 93 miles per hour - pass harmlessly for ball one and two to even the count, Morales got a beautiful slider from McHugh and lined out lazily to Springer in right field to end the inning and calm the heart rates of Astros fans worldwide.

And just like that, after enduring a 58 minute gap in between pitches due to the rain delay, Collin McHugh left after six innings having allowed just four hits, two of which were solo home runs to Kendrys Morales that accounted for each of the runs McHugh allowed, with one walk and one strikeout.  It was a gutsy outing from McHugh, who continued building on his reputation as a second half pitcher with a solid, blue collar effort.

In the top of the seventh inning, Herrera entered from the pen blowing lightning bolts out of his right arm in the mid to high nineties.  Jake Marisnick feigned bunt on the first pitch he saw (a beautiful 95 mile per her fastball on the bottom part of the zone) and took a called strike before slamming a line drive to right field for a single.  Jose Altuve followed with a weak chopper to short and was retired at first for the first time in the ballgame, advancing Marisnick to second as if via swinging bunt.  George Springer looked over matched through the first three pitches in his at bat, with Herrera pounding that fastball in on George Springer, who was understandably gun shy after missing two months of the season following a fastball from a Royals pitcher hitting him on the wrist.  Springer struck out on a 100 mile per hour fastball on the bottom of the zone with a huge, very late, wild swing.  Correa then followed by striking out on a filthy slider well off the plate away and in the dirt - rarely, for him, looking like the barely 21 year old rookie that he is.

Tony Sipp entered for the Astros in the bottom of the seventh inning and almost immediately retired Mike Moustakas on a ground ball to Chris Carter, who had himself a busy night in the field.  Salvador Perez shuffled into the box, quickly fell behind 0-2 against Sipp, and ultimately came back to fight and hack his way through a nine pitch at bat before scalding a ball to Luis Valbuena at third, who made an excellent play to his backhand side before making a solid, easy throw to first to retire the plodding Perez.  Alex Gordon then waved at the first pitch he saw, a slider diving into the right handed batter's box, watched the second pitch for a ball inside and the third pitch for a ball low and away.  On the 2-1 pitch, Gordon fouled off a fastball on his hands to even the count.  He then watched a fastball in the dirt and managed to check his swing, working the count full, before finally breaking his bat in a ground out effort to Jose Altuve to retire the side in order in what was yet another outstanding appearance for Tony Sipp, owner of the second best regular season ERA of any left handed reliever in the American League.

In the top of the eighth inning, Ryan Madson entered the game in a move that surprised literally no one.  Surprising most of the people in Kaufmann stadium, however, whom are accustomed to seeing zeroes from their vaunted bullpen, Colby Rasmus bum rushed the first pitch he saw and hit it an Alabama mile for a jailbreak insurance home run.

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It was Rasmus' second home run in as many career postseason games (the first having come against Masahiro Tanaka, also on the first pitch to lead off the inning) and continued his incredibly torrid September and October.  Evan Gattis then followed with a rifle shot single to left field, and was replaced at first base by Carlos Gomez.  Gomez immediately entertained Astros fans (and annoyed Royals fans, who booed him in a 5-2 baseball game which had so few moments for them to be excited about)  by attempting a stolen base on a pitch which was fouled off, sliding with his now-familiar Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon flourish.  He had to return to first base, of course, and then Madson paid more attention to him while striking out Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter.  Jason Castro came to the plate as the last chance for the Astros to tack on any more insurance in the 8th inning and promptly watched what was clearly strike three in a very hittable area of the zone.  Castro deserves a pass on his nearly complete lack of offensive value, of course, because he's so valuable on the defensive side of the ball.

Will Harris entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning and promptly induced a ground ball at off the bat of Alex Rios.

Five outs remaining.

Alcides Escobar came to the plate for the fourth time looking for his fourth hit.  He'd not find it, as Harris was beastly and struck him out filthily with a sharp 12-6 curve ball in the dirt and well off the plate.

Four outs remaining.

Ben Zobrist then came to the plate and watched some brilliantly spotted nastiness from Harris, who posted both the fourth best relief ERA in the American League and the fourth lowest opposing batting average among all American League relievers in the regular season.  Zobrist lucked his way into a seeing eye BABIP dribbling single up the middle, bringing Lorenzo Cain to the plate.  On the first pitch Cain saw, he sung wildly at a cutter down and away and lost control of his bat, flipping it behind himself and looking pretty silly.  Cain then swung through the first mistake Harris threw on the night for strike two before fouling off the second mistake Harris threw (both very hittable fastballs) down the right field line.  Then, after looking so silly in the at bat, Cain got a great big hanging curve ball in the middle of the plate and slapped it into left field for his first hit of the baseball game.

And just like that, back to back two out singles from the contact-happy Royals ended Will Harris' otherwise stellar outing.  Oliver Perez began his jog in from the bullpen to face Eric Hosmer, who was also in search of his first hit for the game.

His first pitch to Hosmer was a sweeping slider which dove far off the plate and was taken for a ball.  His second was a fastball for a called strike, and his third was another slider but in the zone, which Hosmer popped into foul territory and which Luis Valbuena squeezed for the third out.

Three outs remaining.

In the top of the ninth inning, Luke Hochevar entered to try and keep the Astros from tacking on any more insurance. Jake Marisnick led off seeking his third hit of the contest.  He grounded out to first base on the first pitch he saw.  Jose Altuve then followed with a ground out of his own, this time to third base on a 2-1 count.  George Springer swung and missed badly at a breaking ball well off the plate but settled down and singled to center field, but Correa grounded out to first baseman Eric Hosmer to end the inning.

Three more outs.

Luke Gregerson entered the game in the ninth inning with a three run lead coming off a dominant appearance against the Yankees in the American League Wild Card game to earn the save in the Astros' 3-0 victory.  The first batter he had to face?

Kendrys Morales, the only man in the Royals lineup to collect a hit other than a single...looking for his third home run of the game.

Gregerson was able to get ahead of Morales 1-2 before getting Morales to swing and miss at a filthy slider in the dirt near his feet.

Two.  More.  Outs.

Mike Moustakas strode to the plate, was called on a check swing for strike one, and then was barely grazed on a slider off his foot.  And just like that, the Royals had traffic.

Salvador Perez stepped in, all confidence and bat waggle and popping bubblegum, and quickly fell behind 0-2 to Gregerson.  Luke then channeled the force and got Perez to strike out on a wonderful, tight slider down and away.

One. Out.  Remaining.

Alex Gordon strode to the plate with the Royals down to their final out...

...and popped out on the first pitch he saw into foul territory, with Colby Rasmus squeezing it with both hands for the third and final out of the ballgame!

The Astros continue an interesting trend thus far in the 2015 postseason, with the visiting team winning every single postseason game that's transpired so far.  It bears mentioning that in each of the previous eight Division Series (both leagues combined) that have been played coming into this season, the team who won the first game of the five game series went on to advance to the League Championship Series.

And the Astros stole game one of this best of five Division Series in front of 40,146 shocked Kansas City Royals fans.

Tomorrow's Game 2 is an early game, beginning at 2:30 CT again on Fox Sports One.  Make sure to tune in and support your Houston Astros in the League Division Series!

...yes.  It still feels strange to say, after ten years.

Play us home, Bun B.

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