HOUSTON -- Hours after his start was completed, Astros right-hander Lance McCullers predicted what would happen when Carlos Correa approached the plate with the bases loaded in the 12th inning of Saturday night's 4-3 walk-off win against the Royals at Minute Maid Park.
"Oh," McCullers said, "game's over."
Correa drove a single to right-center field that scored George Springer to seal a comeback win against the pesky Royals. It was Correa's sixth career walk-off hit and his first game-winner since 2016.
"Yeah, he's going to do that 99 times out of 100," said Astros reliever Collin McHugh, who struck out the side in the top of the 12th to earn the win.
For the better part of a second consecutive game, Houston's offense was quiet against a Kansas City pitching staff that entered Saturday carrying the worst team ERA in the Majors. In the ninth inning, the Astros caught a spark as Yuli Gurriel, who homered in the fourth inning, singled and Josh Reddick followed suit to set the table for designated hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off Brandon Maurer to tie it at 3.
All five of the Astros' available relievers -- Brad Peacock, Tony Sipp, Chris Devenski, Will Harris and McHugh -- held the Royals scoreless following McCullers' exit after six solid innings.
"It's a team effort, it really is," McHugh said. "Everybody up and down the staff, we all know our job is to get outs no matter what time of the game we're called on to do it."
The Royals were in position to hand the Astros their first series loss since late May as McCullers yielded a three-run homer to Hunter Dozier in the fourth for an early lead.
"The three-run homer was a punch in the gut to McCullers," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.
Instead, McCullers rebounded and the offense that geared Houston toward 12 consecutive wins earlier this month picked him up with two runs in the fourth on Gurriel's homer and a sacrifice fly from Correa.
McCullers used his changeup, his third pitch behind a two-seam fastball and a knuckle curveball, as his strikeout weapon as he struck out nine.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Springer drew a leadoff walk in the 12th to put the winning run aboard and Alex Bregman singled to right field in the next at-bat. An error by Royals second baseman Ryan Goins on Bregman's blooper that dropped in moved the runners up 90 feet. With two on and none out, Jose Altuve was intentionally walked to load the bases for Correa.
"Yeah, I don't know how many career walk-offs I have, but every single time they walk Altuve," Correa said. "I've got [six] walk-offs because the best hitter in the game is standing in front of me. At the same time, it's not an easy task to just walk him and try to get me out."
HE SAID IT
"We have great pitchers here. I think that minus a couple times here and there, the bullpen has been absolutely dominant this year. It's a luxury to have, knowing that if you come out of a game and the game is close, either way win or lose, they're going to keep it that way and give us a good chance to win those games late." -- McCullers, on the bullpen's six scoreless innings
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With a runner on first base, Royals right fielder Rosell Herrera rolled a grounder to Bregman at third to start an around-the-horn double play in the eighth inning. The Astros challenged the initial safe call -- that Herrera beat out the throw to first -- and it was overturned.
The Astros won another challenge in the ninth inning when Raul Mondesi's steal of second base was overturned thanks to a superb tag by Correa for the second out of the inning. Harris struck out Alex Gordon with the next pitch.
Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole (8-1, 2.59 ERA) will get the ball in the series finale against the Royals at 1:10 p.m. CT on Sunday at Minute Maid Park. With Houston's off-day on Thursday, Cole will make his 16th start of the season on an extra day of rest. He allowed four runs on three hits in seven innings against the Rays on Monday. Righty Jason Hammel (2-8, 4.98) will start for Kansas City.