Astros weather gut-punch, 'bail out' Baker

Manager feels relief, gratitude after pitching decision backfires

August 25th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The first walk-off RBI of ’ young career certainly didn’t come with any style points. But it was enough to rescue the Astros on a Wednesday afternoon in which they finally got rid of the pesky Royals for another season.

The Royals, who won the season series, gave the Astros fits right up until the 10th inning, when Meyers hit a 98 mph grounder off the leg of reliever Joel Payamps. The ball rolled far enough away for -- playing in his first game in more than two months -- to score from third base and give Houston a 6-5 win at Minute Maid Park.

“Great moment, great team win,” Meyers said. “I’m happy we fought back and won. That was a big game. It was fun to be part of it. I was glad I was up in that situation. I’m happy. That was a lot of fun, and I’m glad we won.”

After giving up a 3-1 lead on a seventh-inning grand slam by Whit Merrifield, the Astros (75-52) rallied from 5-3 down to move five games ahead of the A’s (70-57) atop the American League West. had an RBI single in the seventh, and had a tying pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth.

“We really needed to win that game, and the guys played like it,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “That was huge.”

Astros starter had yielded one run -- on a fourth-inning homer by Salvador Perez -- before allowing three batters to reach with two outs in the seventh, ending his day after 6 2/3 innings. Cristian Javier allowed a first-pitch grand slam to Merrifield that stunned the crowd and put the Royals ahead, 5-3.

Baker said the win bailed him out after he second-guessed himself for not pulling McCullers after he walked Emmanuel Rivera to put two runners on in the seventh. McCullers wound up walking No. 9 hitter Cam Gallagher to load the bases.

“I was feeling terrible,” Baker said. “After the two-out single and the base on balls, then I said, ‘Well, it’s his game.’ He had a .188 hitter up with two RBIs and one home run [on the season], and I said, ‘Well, he’s got enough to get this guy.’ He walked him, and the next pitch [by Javier] missed by 2 feet. It was supposed to go outside, and the ball was inside for the gram slam. My heart sank at that moment. I was praying that the boys would bail me out, which they did. Sometimes, you need that.”

Bregman, who began the 10th inning as the automatic runner at second base, also provided a few tense moments for Baker, who said prior to the game that Bregman’s return from a strained left quad was going to require him to be selective about when he runs hard.

Bregman dashed to third on a single by Kyle Tucker to start the 10th, but there was no way third-base coach Omar Lopez was going to try to score him, especially with no outs. It turned out that Bregman was able to score easily from third after Payamps fielded Meyers’ grounder and inexplicably threw to first base for an out. Bregman scored the winning run, and the Astros exhaled.

“I asked the trainers, ‘Is Breggy good enough to run?’” Baker said. “I told the third-base coach ... when in doubt, keep him at third and let the next guy drive him in. It worked out perfectly, and the guys are on Breggy a little bit about how he was running. But we won the game.”

The Astros also had Tucker back in the lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks following his battle with COVID-19. Houston’s lineup is as deep as it has been in months -- just in time for the throes of a pennant race.

“I thought their lineup was a lot better today, with just those two guys coming back,” said Royals starter Mike Minor, who got a no-decision in his start last Thursday against the Astros in Kansas City. “I feel like they’re more of a dynamic lineup or whatever you want to call it. Two guys coming in that can hit for average and home runs, for power, so you space those guys out, plug them in, and I feel like they’re a different offense with those two guys.”