The book on Jakob Junis is: hit him early.
That’s what the Astros did. Real early, but then, that’s what George Springer does. Springer greeted Junis to Minute Maid Park with a lead-off home run, the 27th of his career. It is his 11th this year, which at the time of this writing puts him in a tie for first place in the AL for most homers.
And then, just to show Junis and the Royals a little Southern hospitality, in the second inning Carlos Correa greeted him again. After Springer’s 436 foot bash, Correa’s little howdy went 424 feet to left center field. It extended his hitting streak to 16 games.
In the third inning Junis momentarily lost his control, and walked in a run on a base on balls to Josh Reddick.
The way the Astros hit this weekend it looked like the Stros were on their way to another one-sided slugfest. But Junis settled down, and it was the Astros starter, Gerrit Cole, who began to unravel a bit. In the fourth inning, Alex Gordon hit a tiny infield pop-up against the shift that landed on the third base line and bounced off the edge of the bag, a 38 MPH single. Of course, the next batter, Royals’ best hitter, coming into the game at 196 wRC+, Hunter Dozier, sent a Cole fastball into the seats, bringing the Royals to within one run.
In the fifth inning Billy Hamilton of the Royals led off with a single, another “scorcher” that traveled all of 64.8 MPH but found a spot in right field. And then Albert Mondesi got every bit of a Cole fastball at sent it sailing 443 feet. The Royals had the lead.
But the Astros would regain the lead in the sixth when Robinson Chirinos homered, scoring Josh Reddick, who singled to lead off the inning. And they would add an insurance run in the eighth when George Springer doubled home Robinson Chirinos from first. George made the third out when he over slid third base trying for a triple.
Even with a two run lead, the Astros may not have won the game without amazing fielding in the eighth and ninth innings. With Will Harris pitching in the eighth, Alberto Mondesi hit a hard grounder that bounced off of Harris’ glove. Harris found the ball, pounced on it like a cat, and in one motion turned and threw out the speedy Mondesi by a hair.
And it’s a good thing, because the next two batters singled, and then Jorge Soler hit one of those seeing eye grounders between third and shortstop, just out of the reach of Alex Bregman, a sure infield hit. But wait, moving to his right Carlos Correa somehow stopped it, and then rifled a bullet from the deep hole that just beat Mondesi.
But the trouble was not over. Harris walked the bases loaded for Kelvin Gutierrez, who hit a slow, high bouncer over the new pitcher’s head, Carlos Rondon, to second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve scooped the ball bare-handed and made a perfect underhand throw to get the speedy Gutierrez by an inch.
Altuve would star again in the ninth. With one out and Roberto Osuna pitching, Billy Hamilton hit a perfect swinging bunt to Altuve, who scooped it with his throwing hand and again got a very close out call.
But the best play of the game was the final play, robbery by Michael Brantley of a left field line drive by Whit Merrifield. The ball had an expected batting average of .900.
Tomorrow the Royal’s Danny Duffy faces Collin McHugh. Game time 7:10 CDT,
Box score and videos here.