HOUSTON, Tex. (MLB.com/Royals) – The Royals headed into the home of the defending World Series champion Astros — who are in the midst of one of the tightest division races in years — and took their fourth win over their past five games against them.
Jordan Lyles blanked his former club across five innings as Kansas City won a second consecutive series against Houston with a 3-2 victory at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.
The Royals have now won their past five games and nine of their past 10, including taking two of three from the Astros at Kauffman Stadium last weekend.
“We’ve been fortunate this second half of the year to play in a lot of places where the teams are in contention with good environments and good teams,” manager Matt Quatraro said pregame. “And this is one of the best environments in baseball. The crowd is great. It’s always loud here. They have a really good team.
“Being able to play toe to toe with these guys, they should have an understanding that it’s there. It’s not there consistently enough. We’re not happy with where we are, by any means. But the ability is there, if the focus is there on a daily basis.”
Here are three takeaways from the series win, during which the Royals certainly proved that ability:
Taylor Clarke shushes the Houston crowd
When Clarke entered in the eighth with the tying run on second, the Minute Maid Park crowd was so loud that the right-hander had to step off the mound for a disengagement because he couldn’t hear his PitchCom.
“I had to cover my PitchCom for the first time probably for a while,” Clarke said. “But it’s fun pitching in those. Just helps get the adrenaline going.”
Clarke didn’t let the environment get to him. The reliever told Quatraro on Friday that he loves the chance he’s getting to close out a few games. He earned his first save of the year on Sept. 15 against Houston, and he followed with another one the next day.
Clarke’s third save in eight days vs. the Astros took a couple more outs this time around. After hitting a batter, he shut down the eighth-inning rally with a popout and a strikeout before tossing a 1-2-3 ninth.
“He just kept making quality pitch after quality pitch,” Quatraro said. “… And the thing about him is he’s got a slow heartbeat. He’s going to do the best he can. He’s not going to implode.”
Lyles lifts the Royals
The first thing Lyles mentioned after his scoreless start was that he only went five innings.
“[The Astros] made it very difficult,” Lyles said. “I only went five innings. Every at-bat was a struggle. … I wasn’t able to get deep, but five scoreless, team win — sign me up for it every day of the week.”
Even if Lyles didn’t deliver the length he’s known for, the right-hander gave the Royals his first scoreless outing since July 17. Making his 30th start of the season, Lyles entered having allowed at least one home run in each of his past nine starts.
But Lyles didn’t give up a home run Saturday. And he only allowed three hard-hit balls in play, including a Jose Altuve flyout to the warning track to end his outing.
“We just couldn’t barrel him up,” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said.
Originally taken by the Astros 38th overall in the 2008 Draft, Lyles pitched for the club from 2011-13 and said he has a “special spot” for Houston, despite his years away.
Bullpen makes strides
Carlos Hernández hasn’t exactly had the smoothest month. He entered Saturday with a 16.62 ERA (eight runs in 4 1/3 innings) and just two strikeouts to seven walks in September.
But Hernández bounced back with a scoreless inning vs. the heart of Houston’s order (Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker).
James McArthur retired the same trio of hitters on Friday for a five-out save. He has retired 36 of 38 batters in September (12 1/3 scoreless innings).
Clarke, Hernández and McArthur (who added a nasty slider when he joined the Royals) all have the stuff to give the team confidence to send them out in high-leverage situations. They’ve all also had stretches of dominance, including Clarke’s 0.71 ERA in 12 May appearances and Hernández’s 1.93 ERA in May.
For the three relievers, it’s a matter of location and staying consistent. Against the Astros, they’ve done just that in big spots.
“[This stretch provides] a lot of opportunity for guys, including myself, to keep proving themselves,” Clarke said. “In each outing, you’re being watched and graded. So just trying to make the most of that opportunity.
“Winning is a lot more fun than losing.”