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Altuve's HR sparks 5-run 9th to deck Royals

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KANSAS CITY -- Jose Altuve belted a two-run home run off Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, part of a five-run ninth inning, as the Astros rolled to a 6-1 win on Thursday night to split the four-game series.

Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. was dominant, throwing a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings until Lorenzo Cain tripled to deep left-center field. McCullers, who allowed only four balls hit past the infield, left after seven innings having given up two hits and one run while walking two and striking out eight.

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KANSAS CITY -- Jose Altuve belted a two-run home run off Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, part of a five-run ninth inning, as the Astros rolled to a 6-1 win on Thursday night to split the four-game series.

Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. was dominant, throwing a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings until Lorenzo Cain tripled to deep left-center field. McCullers, who allowed only four balls hit past the infield, left after seven innings having given up two hits and one run while walking two and striking out eight.

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Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Altuve and other #ASGWorthy players

"Credit to both pitchers and an explosive ninth inning for us," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We've seen that out of our group. It starts with a leadoff walk, which probably won't get talked about a ton. … Jose hunted a heater after a lot of balls from Herrera. Once that sort of broke the ice, it looked like our offense put together some tremendous at-bats."

Josh Reddick led off the ninth inning with a walk before Altuve broke a 1-1 tie with his ninth home run, which traveled a projected 430 feet, per Statcast™, his longest of the season. Jake Marisnick added a two-run single.

Video: HOU@KC: Astros plate five runs in the 9th inning

"Kel was just flat today," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Struggled with his command early. But just flat for him."

Royals right-hander Jason Hammel nearly matched McCullers. Hammel threw seven innings and gave up just four hits and one run -- that run scoring on a balk. He had no walks and four strikeouts.

Video: HOU@KC: Hammel allows one run over seven frames

"Hammel was fantastic, seven strong innings," Yost said. "Really commanded his fastball, had great action on it."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No more no-no: Cain, who grounded into a double play to end the first, took three straight balls from McCullers with one out in the seventh. McCullers then threw a fastball, and Cain jumped on it, sending a drive to left-center that got beyond George Springer for a triple. McCullers struck out Eric Hosmer with the infield in, but Mike Moustakas followed with a sharp single to right and the score was 1-1.

Video: HOU@KC: Cain triples to break up no-hitter

"He was locked in tonight," Cain said of McCullers. "His stuff was pretty nasty. Nice two-seamer that started off the plate and backdoored it, or started on the plate and ran in on the hands. Filthy stuff tonight.

"I got the signal it was OK to swing 3-0. I normally don't like to swing 3-0. I'm not a 3-0 guy. I've maybe swung two or three times at 3-0 in my career. Once I hit it, I just hoped it would get down."

Unusual way to score: Hammel was shutting out the Astros until, with runners on first and third and one out in the sixth, he balked in a run. Hammel attempted a quick step throw to first, but appeared to get his feet tangled as he couldn't get the ball out of his glove. He never got the throw off. Norichika Aoki, who had singled leading off the inning, scored and the Astros had a 1-0 lead.

Video: HOU@KC: Aoki scores from third on Hammel's balk

"I've done that pick 1,000 times and never done that," Hammel said. "I kind of sausage-fingered it and it stuck in the glove. Sure enough, that was the run.

"Everything was there except the ball. I wasn't about to fire it in the stands. I just decided to eat it."

QUOTABLE
"I feel like he's got no-hit stuff every time he takes the mound. He's that kind of pitcher. He's a dominant pitcher, and he's got dominant stuff. You feel like that every time he takes the ball." -- Astros catcher Brian McCann, on McCullers

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Astros, who have won 14 of their last 17, have homered in 16 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in club history, and they have scored at least five runs in 12 consecutive games, matching a club record and the longest streak in the Majors since the Mets in 2007.

AOKI NEARS CAREER MARK
Aoki's sixth-inning single was the 1,998th of his career combined between his time in Japan (1,284) and the Major Leagues (714). He's two hits shy of 2,000, which garners automatic entrance into the Meikyu-Kai, or The Golden Players Club.

WHAT'S NEXT
Astros: Right-hander Brad Peacock (3-0, 2.30 ERA) will make his fourth start when the Astros open a nine-game homestand on Friday against the Angels at 7:15 p.m. CT. Peacock has made three straight starts, going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA, after opening the season in the bullpen.

Royals: Rookie left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-1, 4.32) will make his third Major League start when the Royals take on the Padres to open a nine-game road trip on Friday at 9:10 p.m. CT. Skoglund gave up four runs in two innings during an abbreviated start because of rain his last time out on Sunday.

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Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for M/LB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.