Royals run streak to five with sweep of Astros
Mendoza fires seven scoreless innings; Gordon delivers go-ahead RBI
KANSAS CITY -- High five.
Meaning the Royals now have their longest winning streak of the season, five games, after beating the Houston Astros, 2-0, on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Also meaning that's how pitcher Luis Mendoza, who pitched seven shutout innings, could celebrate with eighth-inning hitting heroes Chris Getz, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer.
This is the Royals' longest win streak since Sept. 10-17, 2011, when they won seven straight. They even sneaked into third place in the American League Central, passing Minnesota.
Kansas City's five-game streak comes right after a period in which it was a woeful 6-22.
"You've got to clear it out of your head and just move on, and that's what we did," Gordon said. "So we're feeling pretty good right now. Great pitching and defense today. Kept us around long enough to do some damage in the eighth."
Ah, yes, that delightful eighth inning. Astros starter Lucas Harrell had matched Mendoza's seven scoreless innings in a tense pitching duel. Finally, Astros manager Bo Porter decided to pull Harrell after 99 pitches.
"I wasn't going to send him back out there and put him in position to get the loss. You send him back out there, now he's at 115 or 116 pitches with men on base," Porter said. "Now, you're going to bring somebody else into the game and he's in position to get a loss."
Instead, Hector Ambriz got the loss. He came out of the Astros' bullpen and, with one out, Getz beat out a grounder that second baseman Jose Altuve dove to stop on the edge of the grass. Then, Getz stole second base.
"Harrell pitched a really nice game," Getz said. "He's a great sinkerballer, so you can't really try to pull a sinkerballer or you just beat it into the ground. That guy [Ambriz] had a straighter fastball, so I was able to pull something and beat it out.
"When I got on base, I just trusted my speed, got a decent jump and got in there. And Gordo came up with the big knock and got things rolling."
Gordon singled to left-center, scoring Getz, and got around to third when center fielder Trevor Crowe's throw went wide of home plate for an error.
"I know there's a base open and they're going to be careful the way they pitch to you, so I was trying to be patient and not try to do too much," Gordon said. "I took an outside fastball and hit a single, and was able to do some good baserunning and get in scoring position for Hoz."
Hosmer smacked an Ambriz curveball up the middle for a single and Gordon was home. Salvador Perez followed with his third single, but the Royals couldn't add to their 2-0 lead. That, though, was enough.
Mendoza gave way to Aaron Crow, who pitched a scoreless eighth and got credit for the victory. Greg Holland worked the ninth for his 12th save. But it was Mendoza's best pitching of the season that put the Royals in position to win.
Mendoza got all kinds of defensive help in the first inning. Third baseman Mike Moustakas went to his left to stab Altuve's shot and threw him out. Center fielder David Lough charged in for a diving catch of Jason Castro's line drive. Carlos Corporan singled, but was forced out by the shifted-around infield. Shortstop Elliot Johnson, stationed on the right-field side of second base, sprawled to snag Carlos Pena's grounder and shoveled the ball to third baseman Moustakas covering second.
"Three web gems in the first inning," Mendoza said. "That was rare. After that inning, I just felt more pumped. I felt they were going to back me up."
At one point, Mendoza retired 12 straight batters. Harrell one-upped him, getting 13 Royals in a row.
Among the crowd of 20,723 was Harrell's own little cheering section. He's from Ozark, Mo., and his parents now live in Springfield, Mo.
"It was nice to pitch in front of a lot of friends and family. My mom and dad sat right behind our dugout, so it was nice to see them right there," Harrell said.
They must have held their breath in the first inning when, after two outs, the Royals loaded the bases on Perez's single and two walks. Harrell squelched the threat as Lough rolled into a forceout. But that drove up his pitch count; Harrell threw 51 through the first two innings and just 48 through the next five.
"I started pounding the zone and using my sinker to get ahead," he said.
Mendoza also was using his sinker effectively and had reached 88 pitches when manager Ned Yost decided to lift him. Not only was his bullpen well-rested, it had a streak of 15 2/3 scoreless innings, retiring 27 of the last 29 batters faced.
Given those circumstances and the fact that he was coming up on the fourth go-round of the top of the Astros' lineup, Mendoza didn't argue.
"I think it was the best decision. Seven innings and of course I want to go more and get the win, but I didn't complain about it," Mendoza said. "That was the right move. Our bullpen has been great and I know they're going to hold the game right there. We've been scoring runs in the late innings so that was perfect."
Mendoza gave up just four hits and one walk in his seven innings. Harrell was touched for only two hits and walked three.
Nothing like a winning streak to encourage some clubhouse hijinks. Shortstop Johnson edged into the media scrum, borrowed a TV microphone and asked a question of Mendoza.
"You're trending on Twitter as the best hair in the big leagues," Johnson intoned. "Do you care to elaborate ... ?"
"I just let it grow, that's all," Mendoza said, laughing and tossing his long locks.
Just as the Royals want to let their winning streak grow on Monday night against the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, who visit Kansas City for three games.
"I feel we're as ready as we can be," Yost said. "We're starting to swing the bats better, our pitching's been great, our defense is good, so it should be an interesting series."