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Astros hold off Royals behind fine relief work

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- One night after their bullpen imploded following an exceptional outing from starter Bud Norris, the Houston Astros received a redemptive relief effort in support of Jordan Lyles.

Travis Blackley, Hector Ambriz and Jose Veras preserved the one-run lead they inherited from Lyles, and the Astros posted a 3-1 victory in the rubber game of the three-game series. The Royals had been 3-0 in rubber games, winning each on the road.

Veras recorded his eighth save and extended his string of consecutive hitless appearances to seven. Since April 23, he has allowed one hit over 11 appearances (11 1/3 innings) for an opponents' average of .030.

"I think Veras has not only done a great job on the field but also off the field," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He's done a great job down in the bullpen mentoring a lot of the young guys that we have down there.

"We brought him in for this very reason: to have a guy that has experience pitching in the back end that can close out games for you and at the same time be a positive influence in the clubhouse. And he's done a great job on both fronts."

The Astros (14-33) ran into a spot of trouble in the eighth when Chris Getz worked a walk off Blackley to open the frame. However, Getz was erased trying to advance on a ball in the dirt, and Ambriz rebounded to retire Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon in order.

Blackley, Ambriz and Veras worked three hitless innings behind Lyles (2-1). Getz was the Royals' lone baserunner during that stretch.

"I don't even like to talk about things like that after a game like this because you are emotional," Royals manager Ned Yost said when asked if lineup changes were imminent. "Things like that have to be well thought out, and the thought process, especially after a game like that, isn't real trustworthy right now."

Royals right-hander James Shields (2-5) entered the series finale ranked second in the majors in innings per start, and a first-inning hiccup didn't prevent him from pitching deep into the game against the Astros.

Shields worked at least six innings for a 24th consecutive start, a streak dating to July 20, 2012. However, a bit of misfortune followed by a mistake pitch to J.D. Martinez put Shields, and the Royals (21-22), in an early hole.

With two outs in the first, Astros catcher Jason Castro flung his bat at a two-strike changeup and deposited a single into shallow center field despite being badly fooled by the pitch. On the seventh pitch of his at-bat, Martinez drilled a 2-2 cut fastball the opposite way for a homer to right field, giving the Astros a 2-0 lead.

"We were able to get to him right away, first inning, which is huge. And it gives Lyles a little bit of comfort as well," said Martinez, who finished 2-for-4. "Pitchers like (Shields), good guys, you've got to get them early before they settle in."

Lyles didn't relinquish the lead, delivering his finest start of an inconsistent season. The Royals cut their deficit in half when George Kottaras followed a Jeff Francoeur leadoff triple with an RBI double in the third inning, but Lyles rebounded to strand runners at the corners.

Lyles retired six consecutive batters in one stretch and worked a season-high six innings, allowing one run on six hits and one walk. Shields was equally effective, allowing two runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings. However, the Royals' offense didn't offer the necessary support to spare Shields yet another tough-luck loss.

"We are going to get some wins," Shields said. "I mean, obviously, my goal is to get wins. I feel that is my job here is to get wins. It's just not happening right now. These guys are going to pick me up. These guys are great. They are grinding every day. We are going through a little struggle right now. Our heads are high, and we are staying positive. It is a long season. By no means we are out of it. We are going to keep putting in a good effort and grind it out."

NOTES: Lyles enjoyed his second strong start in as many outings against the Royals. On June 20, 2012, he allowed two runs on three hits with four strikeouts over seven innings in a 2-1 loss at Minute Maid Park. ... For a third consecutive game, Gordon extended his hitting streak with a single in his first at-bat. Gordon, who finished the night 1-for-3 with a walk, has hit safely in 10 consecutive games. ... Castro went 3-for-4, his first three-hit game of the season.
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