Morales, Young shine, but can't carry KC
Royals will require broader contributions to advance
KANSAS CITY -- If you looked at the splendid performances of two Royals on Thursday night, you would have sworn that Kansas City had won the opener of this American League Division Series.
Those two -- Chris Young and Kendrys Morales -- were terrific. But they didn't get much support and so their performances were not rewarded as the Royals fell to the Astros, 5-2, in Game 1.
After rain delayed the game for 49 minutes at the end of the second inning, Young replaced Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura. The Royals are hoping to bring Ventura back for a start in a possible Game 4 on Monday (1 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1), but beyond that, he had not pitched with particular effectiveness, giving up three runs and four hits in two innings.
Young pitched brilliantly, striking out seven (including the first six batters he faced) in four innings, giving up one run on a homer by George Springer. This was precisely the kind of long-relief performance that can turn defeat into victory. The fact that this game didn't turn that way was no fault of Young's.
What made Young's performance even more compelling was the fact that he had returned to the team Monday after attending the funeral of his father. This was not simply a fine performance, it was a courageous performance.
"I have a job to do," Young said. "Life goes on. These guys have been there for me, I'm trying to be there for them."
On the offensive side for the Royals, well, there was Morales. His two solo home runs accounted for all of Kansas City's run production.
The way Morales started out, with homers in his first two at-bats, you were reminded of his performance in Detroit on Sept. 20, when he set a franchise record with 15 total bases, on three homers and a triple. That didn't happen this time, but the one person who couldn't be blamed for the Royals' offensive shortcomings was Morales.
The only problem with these home runs was that no one was on base. Kansas City was unable to generate anything resembling a consistent offense against Houston starter Collin McHugh.
"Really, we could not get any type of rally going," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "We got little mini-rallies going, but we couldn't sustain them. He just made pitches and kept us off balance with his offspeed stuff, commanded his ball well. And after sitting for [49 minutes], my hope was maybe he'd stiffen up a little bit. But, no, he came back just as sharp as he was in the first two innings."
McHugh gave the Astros six strong innings, with the only damage recorded against him the two homers by Morales. Houston's bullpen took it from there. The Royals managed to put two on with two outs in the eighth, but lefty Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer on a foul pop to end the inning and the threat.
The ironic aspect of this performance by the Royals was that their leading performances came from offseason acquisitions. The players who had been the mainstays of their push to the World Series last year were non-factors.
This defeat represented one more loss than Kansas City had in all of the AL postseason in 2014. The club went 8-0 through three series (AL Wild Card Game, ALDS, AL Championship Series). The only series in which the Royals lost Game 1 was the World Series, which turned out to be the only series they lost. But that whole experience still said more about Giants ace Madison Bumgarner than it did about the Royals.
"It's not a death sentence to lose Game 1," Yost said after Thursday's defeat.
No, it isn't. But the lesson learned from this Game 1 was that even two extraordinary individual performances will not be enough to prevail in this ALDS. Defeating the Astros and moving on to the ALCS will require contributions that will need to be considerably broader and deeper than that.