Taylor Clarke muted a late rally attempt and the Kansas City Royals turned small-ball offense into a 3-2 victory over the host Houston Astros and a three-game road series win on Saturday.
The Royals (53-102) earned their fourth win in five games over the slumping Astros (85-70), whose postseason hopes took a blow with their eighth loss in 11 games. Houston fell 1 1/2 games behind the Texas Rangers, who beat the Seattle Mariners 2-0, in the American League West.
Houston is in possession of the AL’s third wild-card spot by a half-game over Seattle.
Kansas City has won five straight games and nine of its past 10.
Stymied by Royals right-hander Jordan Lyles (5-17) for five innings, the Astros mounted a rally against the Kansas City bullpen starting with a leadoff home run by Chas McCormick in the seventh that cut the deficit to two runs. McCormick clubbed his 22nd homer off Royals reliever Collin Snider, who rallied with strikeouts of pinch-hitter Jon Singleton and Jose Altuve to strand Jeremy Pena in scoring position.
Houston then stroked back-to-back one-out doubles off Tucker Davidson in the eighth, with Kyle Tucker plating Yordan Alvarez and slicing the margin to one run. But Clarke entered for the Royals and, after plunking Jose Abreu with a pitch, retired McCormick and Yainer Diaz. Clarke then retired the side in order in the ninth for his third save.
The Royals fashioned their three-run advantage off Astros right-hander J.P. France (11-6) when Maikel Garcia reached on an infield single in the first and advanced to third on a stolen base and a Diaz throwing error before scoring on a MJ Melendez sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.
After Nick Pratto and Kyle Isbel reached in succession leading off the fifth via a single and a walk, both scored without the ball leaving the infield, with Pratto scoring on a fielder’s choice groundout and Isbel following when France uncorked a wild pitch to Melendez.
After taking the loss in his previous start against the Astros on Sunday, Lyles was much sharper this time around. While he retired the side in order only once, doing so in the fourth, Lyles did not allow a baserunner to reach scoring position until Pena stole second base in the fifth.
Lyles issued two walks and recorded three strikeouts during his stint. Both walks — to Alex Bregman in the first inning and Altuve in the third — came with one out, but Lyles followed with consecutive flyball outs in both innings to mute any potential uprisings. Diaz and Pena produced singles off Lyles, but the Astros did little to mount a significant threat after both reached safely.