For much of Friday night’s contest in Kansas City, a first inning homer from Jose Altuve represented the game’s only scoring. As might have been expected coming into the game, it was a pitcher’s duel between Cy Young favorite Gerrit Cole and Royals ace Danny Duffy, who had his good stuff in the primetime showdown.
Duffy had a bit of an adventure in the early going- George Springer led the game off with a well-struck ball to center that went for a long out, and Jose Altuve followed that up by taking Duffy deep to left center to give the Astros a quick 1-0 lead. After a two out walk to Yordan Alvarez, Duffy got out of the first, and it looked like the Astros lead might be short-lived as Whit Merrifield led off the Kansas City half of the first with a double down the line. Cole quickly erased the scoring opportunity however- Merrifield was able to advance to third on a flyout by Adalberto Mondesi, but a key one out K of Jorge Soler set him up to escape damage by inducing another flyout from cleanup hitter Hunter Dozier.
The Astros second inning had an auspicious start as Aledmys Diaz drew a five pitch leadoff walk, and Kyle Tucker laced a liner at 103 MPH- but it unfortunately went for an out despite an expected batting average of .850 per Statcast. The tough out proved huge, as, after a strikeout by Martin Maldonado, Jake Marisnick ripped a base hit to left that would’ve scored a run had Tucker reached base. Regardless, the knock gave George Springer an opportunity with men on first and second and two outs, but he went down swinging to end the inning.
Cole had a dominant 1-2-3 second frame, and Duffy looked as though he might keep pace as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman both made outs in the air swinging on the first pitch to open the third, but Yordan Alvarez cracked a two out double to set up an RBI chance for Yuli Gurriel. La Pina would ground out, however, and Cole again allowed a leadoff double, this time to Bubba Starling, to give the Royals an excellent opportunity to tie the score at one. However, Meibrys Viloria was unable to advance the runner, and Cole beared down for two consecutive strikeouts on Merrifield and Mondesi to end the inning.
From this point, Duffy sailed until exiting the game, retiring the side in order in the fourth, before Cole also faced the minimum by wiping out a one out walk with a double play ball. Duffy then produced three consecutive strikeouts on the 9-1-2 portion of the Astros lineup, keeping his pitch count in a reasonable range which would allow him to return for the sixth. Cole allowed a leadoff walk to Ryan McBroom leading of the bottom of the fifth, but retired the side in order from there.
Alex Bregman, again swinging at the first pitch, laced a single to left to lead off the sixth, but Duffy would again face the minimum as Yordan Alvarez followed with a flyout and Yuli Gurriel GIDP. The offenses would again get little going in the seventh, but things got interesting from there on out. Alex Gordon, evidently unhappy with being rung up in his seventh inning plate appearance, was ejected from the game between the seventh and eighth, as was KC manager Ned Yost, who went out to continue pleading Gordon’s case.
After the drama dissipated, Jacob Barnes came on for the Royals and would create some drama of his own by walking Bregman and Alvarez on a combined nine pitches after retiring the first two batters he faced. He would then escape by inducing a groundout by Gurriel, however, keeping the Royals in the contest. Bubba Starling led off the home half with a single off Cole, and then a crucial throwing error, well wide of the bag, by Martin Maldonado on a stolen base attempt gave the Royals a prime scoring opportunity with a runner on a 3rd and nobody out. Meibrys Viloria delivered with a sac fly to center, scoring the speedy Starling, and the game was tied for the first time since one out in the top of the first.
Cole was able to make quick work of the next two hitters in what would be his last inning of the night, turning things over to the Astros in the top of the 9th with Heath Fillmyer coming on for the home club. After a fly out from Diaz, Tucker finally broke through with a base hit on his fourth hard hit ball of the night (he had xBAs of .340, .850, .860 and .950 on the day), and AJ Hinch called on Michael Brantley to pinch hit for Maldonado. Brantley worked a five pitch walk, and returned to the bench for pinch runner Garrett Stubbs. Hinch again went to the bench, pinch hitting Josh Reddick for Marisnick, who then struck out swinging. With two outs in the inning, George Springer came to the plate, and Fillmyer grooved a fastball after missing with his first two pitches of the at bat, and Springer deposited it into the left field seats at the speed of 114.3 MPH off the bat, giving the Astros a commanding 4-1 lead.
Josh Staumont came on to replace Fillmyer after he allowed a single to Altuve and walked Bregman to give the Astros another scoring opportunity, and, as he is wont to do, walked the first batter he faced, Yordan Alvarez. Yuli Gurriel then came to the plate and stroked a ball to center, but it was right at Bubba Starling who snagged it to end the inning. Gerrit Cole might have come out for the 9th in a playoff game at 101 pitches, but in this September contest Hinch opted for Roberto Osuna in the 9th. Osuna made quick work of Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier to start the frame before allowing a sharp ground ball single to former Astros farmhand Brett Phillips to bring up Ryan McBroom. Osuna was able to wrap things up on a strikeout looking, dotting a fastball on the inside corner to end it. Osuna again was unable to locate his secondaries, but nonetheless had a low stress ninth.
Despite facing off against a hot Danny Duffy, the Astros were able to generate numerous scoring chances before finally breaking through in the top of the ninth to seal the deal. Gerrit Cole was once again Gerrit Cole, Destroyer of Worlds, notching eleven more strikeouts while allowing just six baserunners and one unearned run over his eight innings of work. The Astros will look to stay on track for a sweep on the road tomorrow behind Zack Greinke, who will be opposed by Mike Montgomery for the Royals in another evening game.