Offense strong, but key missteps sink Astros

August 17th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- The Astros’ first look at the Royals in 2021 brought more frustration for manager Dusty Baker’s club against non-contending teams. They were able to overcome a wobbly start by Jake Odorizzi on homers by Aledmys Díaz, Carlos Correa and Jason Castro, but they still fell short.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez stroked a two-run, two-out single off relief pitcher Yimi García in the eighth inning Monday night to break a tie and send the Astros to a 7-6 loss in the series opener at Kauffman Stadium. Houston remained 2 1/2 games ahead of the A’s atop the American League West.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Correa, who blasted a 430-foot homer to left field in the sixth. “Definitely, the offense looks really good right now. Hopefully, we can carry that over this series and into the end of the season.”

Here are some key moments from Monday’s loss: 

Baker says pitching to Perez was the right move 

Perez, who leads the Royals with 77 RBIs, came to the plate with runners at second and third base and two outs in the eighth inning of a tied game, but Baker said he didn’t consider intentionally walking him to face Carlos Santana with the bases loaded. 

“If you’ve seen Santana over the years, this guy’s been a clutch man for a long time,” Baker said. “It’s easy to look back now and say, [‘Walk him’]. We got some charts and stuff that shows what the chances are of somebody hitting somebody and Perez, I don’t think, had ever faced Garcia.” 

Perez reached out and slapped a 90.9-mph slider that was off the plate and floated it down the right-field line to score Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez. 

“[Garcia] got two quick outs and then they got three two-out hits in a row, and that was a good pitch,” Baker said. “Sometimes, guys just hit a good pitch, and that pitch was off the plate and he hit a broken-bat flare down the line.” 

Slider to Dozier haunts Odorizzi 

Odorizzi struggled to keep the Royals off the bases early, but limited the damage to three runs on six hits through the first three innings. He began the sixth with a strikeout of Michael A. Taylor and was two outs from finishing the inning, when Hunter Dozier crushed a slider and sailed it over the left-field wall for a game-tying homer.

“It was a backup slider,” Odorizzi said. “It was a [bad] time for it. I worked him away that entire game and executed away and got weak contact. After the strikeout of the guy before, I felt good going into the sixth inning. It wasn’t a lack of stuff. It was poor execution of a pitch at literally the wrong time. It was middle-down and a spinner.”

A spinner?

“After you work a guy away for so long and you throw a ball that ends up in the middle of the plate, it looks like a pitch they haven’t seen all day, and if they’re looking away, they’re ready for it,” he said. “Just untimely for bad execution right there.”

Odorizzi was trying to do what he had done early in the game and get some weak contact on pitches down and away.

“I thought, especially after the strikeout there [to start the sixth], that it was going to be an ambush situation,” he said. “I was trying to execute down and away, and I didn’t execute. Simple as that.”

Royals’ aggressiveness on bases turns tide

The Astros gave up a season-high four stolen bases to the Royals, including three in the seventh and eighth innings to Lopez, who wound up scoring runs in both innings. Merrifield stole second base in the first but was later cut down at the plate by Correa’s throw.

“That’s the Kansas City Royals’ game for as long as I can remember,” Baker said. “Not only are they aggressive, but they got speed. They’re leading the world in stolen bases. We’re trying to keep them close. It was a situation where they stole off of the pitcher a couple of times. You saw Merrifield ... he took off running one time before Odorizzi even delivered the ball. Evidently, he saw something in his delivery to let him know he was going home for sure.”

Merrifield got a great jump and picked the right spot to run -- a split-fingered pitch down in the zone. The stolen base came despite Odorizzi varying his holds and throwing to first base a couple of times.

In the seventh, Lopez drew a walk off Ryne Stanek and stole second and third, which came with a high throw from catcher Jason Castro. He scored on Santana’s single. In the eighth, Lopez stole second base without a throw with the Astros in a shift and holding their positions on defense. He scored what turned out to be the winning run on Perez’s single.

“The element of speed is a very underrated element in the game, and they showed us why today,” Odorizzi said.

Alvarez removed with illness

Eyebrows were raised in the eighth inning when Baker pinch-hit for slugger Yordan Alvarez with the Astros trailing, 5-4. Baker said Alvarez had been dealing with an upset stomach the entire game and was set to see a doctor postgame. The move ended up working out for the Astros when Taylor Jones hit a double to left field and scored on a single by Díaz to tie the game at 5.