HOUSTON -- No one had ever tried to steal home previously while Luis Garcia was on the mound, but he still knew the Royals and their aggressive baserunners were going to try to take advantage of his prolonged, three-stepped windup in the third inning Tuesday.
So when Royals center fielder Michael A. Taylor broke for home with runners at second and third base, Garcia didn’t panic. He sped up his delivery and fired a pitch to catcher Jason Castro, who dropped down and tagged out Taylor at the plate. That’s as close as the Royals got to scoring off Garcia, who threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the Astros’ 4-0 win at Minute Maid Park.
“I knew he would try to steal home,” Garcia said. “I was trying to do nothing about it but wait for it. Thank God, things were good. I got him out.”
Garcia’s unorthodox windup, in which he taps his left foot back and forth before throwing a pitch, was all but inviting Taylor to try to score from third, but Garcia was ready.
“That’s a big play that got us out of the inning,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “He [sped] up his delivery. A lot of times guys will balk and do something different, but all he did was just speed up his delivery. That was an outstanding play by a young man who probably never had that happen before, and he had the coolness of mind to execute properly.”
Said Royals manager Mike Matheny: “If he’s safe, I think we’re all talking about what a momentum shifter that was.”
Garcia strengthened his American League Rookie of the Year case by improving to 10-6 with a 3.21 ERA. He fanned seven batters Tuesday, extending his lead among AL rookies to 144 strikeouts. Garcia began the day tied with A's pitcher Cole Irvin for second in the AL in fWAR (2.4), trailing Rangers outfielder Adolis García (2.7).
“The possibilities are there, but ... I’m not thinking about that right now,” Garcia said of his ROY candidacy. “I’m just trying to do my work and do it good, and see what happens.”
Coming off a season in which he made his Major League debut as an unknown pitcher who had never pitched above Class A ball and the Astros’ No. 13-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Garcia has a 1.83 ERA at home this year, having not allowed an earned run in his last 18 2/3 innings.
“He’s been very impressive all year long,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who was the last Astros player to win the Rookie of the Year Award (2015). “I don’t know how the other rookies are doing. I have to look into that. He’s got a strong case the way he’s been pitching. We’re a first-place team, and he’s been a big part of it. He should be up there.”
The Astros jumped on Royals starter Brady Singer for three unearned runs in the first inning, and Correa added an RBI double in the fourth to back Garcia with a 4-0 lead. The win allowed Houston to move 4 1/2 games ahead of Oakland atop the AL West standings -- its biggest division lead since Aug. 4.
Garcia was facing the Royals for the second consecutive start, having given up three earned runs on four hits in five innings on Thursday. He changed up his game plan Tuesday, throwing more fastballs and being more aggressive in the strike zone.
“Even in between pitches, you could tell how he was warming up, that he had an aggressive nature tonight,” Baker said. “He had them off balance with his cutter, which was excellent tonight. He threw some great breaking balls and he had a well-located fastball. He was masterful. We were trying to take him to that seventh inning. He almost made it. [Hunter] Dozier hit a ball off the end [for a single], and I figured it was time to go get him. [Ryne] Stanek was outstanding, and here comes [Kendall] Graveman, and we scored just enough runs to win.”