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Bats go quiet as Shields delivers another sharp start

Road trip ends with additional narrow loss as KC drops rubber match

HOUSTON -- The Kansas City Royals sincerely hope that there is no place like home.

They completed a nine-game road trip Wednesday night with a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON -- The Kansas City Royals sincerely hope that there is no place like home.

They completed a nine-game road trip Wednesday night with a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

View Full Game Coverage

Final score on the trip: Three wins and six losses -- four of them by one run.

End result: Kansas City got shoved below .500 again, now sitting at 21-22.

"We need to get home, start hitting, starting winning ballgames," right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "It's been a long road trip, especially when you go all the way out West [to Anaheim and Oakland]."

"After a game like that, not much helps," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said of going home.

The Royals have scored three runs or fewer in seven of their last 11 games. They rank 13th in the American League in runs scored.

Every time the Royals look as if they are about to turn around their offense, they slide backward.

Kansas City trailed 3-0 after six innings Tuesday night, then scored seven runs in the last three innings to beat the Astros and snap its four-game losing streak.

But Houston's J.D. Martinez hit a two-run homer in the first inning Wednesday off right-hander James Shields. The Royals looked sure to tie the game in the third. Francoeur led off the inning with a triple all the way to Tal's Hill, 425 feet away in dead center, and scored on George Kottaras' double.

Kottaras moved to third on a ground out and stood 90 feet away from tying the game with only one out. But Kottaras could not score on Alcides Escobar's ground out and, after Alex Gordon walked, cleanup hitter Billy Butler struck out.

It was the Royals' only run of the game.

"We've got to give ourselves chances in more than one inning," Francoeur said.

Only one Kansas City runner reached second base in the last six innings.

"It's a little frustrating," Yost said of his team's lack of offense. "Especially when James Shields gives you the type of performance he did tonight. We just haven't given him the run support he deserves."

Shields worked seven innings, giving up seven hits, striking out seven and walking none. His record fell to 2-6 despite his 2.47 ERA.

"We are going to get some wins," Shields said. "I feel that is my job here is to get wins. It's just not happening right now. These guys are going to pick me up. These guys are great. They are grinding every day. It could have been a lot worse, but we made some really good defensive plays today.

"We are going through a little struggle right now. Our heads are high, and we are staying positive. It's a long season. By no means are we out of it. We are going to keep putting in a good effort and grind it out."

Shields retired Houston's first two hitters in the bottom of the first before Jason Castro singled and Martinez followed his 359-foot, opposite-field, home run to right.

"I was trying to go inside on him right there and left it over the plate," Shields said of the Martinez home run. "He put a good swing on it. Those things are going to happen. The at-bat before with Castro, he threw his bat at it. I don't think I have ever seen that before."

Kansas City still trailed only 2-1 when Chris Getz, the sixth player to bat leadoff this year for the Royals, worked left-handed reliever Travis Blackley for a walk to open the eighth.

Yost called for Escobar to bunt Getz to second against Houston's next reliever Hector Ambriz. When Ambriz threw a pitch in the dirt, Getz thought it might get away.

It didn't, and Getz got trapped in a rundown between first and second.

"He just got caught," Yost said. "He knows he's the tying run. He was being aggressive and took that one extra step."

"I was floating out there and before I knew it I was in no man's land," Getz said of getting picked off. "There was nothing I could do.

"I believe in myself as a base runner. That's one of my strengths. We believe in our offense. We're just not creating any runs right now."

Getz admitted individually the Royals may be trying too hard at the plate.

"That's what happens," he said. "Players trying to do a little too much."

Kansas City never could solve Houston starter Jordan Lyles, who pitched six innings, his longest outing of the season, giving up six hits and only one walk.

"He didn't make a whole lot of mistakes and we didn't do anything when he did," Yost said.

"The biggest thing is he pitched to both sides of the plate," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "When you're 92 to 95 [mph] and can pitch to both sides, it makes all your secondary stuff that much better because they can't just commit to one side of the plate."

The Royals never got a hit off the last three Houston relievers combined. Getz was the only hitter to even reach base.

Gene Duffey is a contributor to

Kansas City Royals, George Kottaras, James Shields