Houston Astros blast four home runs as Kansas City Royals fall for second day in a row

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The Kansas City Royals’ dynamic rookie duo of Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez each crushed home runs, but it wasn’t enough as the Houston Astros exploded for four homers of their own in a nine-run scoring outburst.

Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who pitched for the Astros from the trade deadline of 2019 through the end of the 2021 season, allowed six earned runs on 10 hits and two walks in five innings. He allowed two home runs, both in the fifth inning.

The Astros tacked on three more runs, including two more homers, against Royals reliever Jackson Kowar on their way to dealing the Royals a 9-7 loss in front of an announced 28,762 on Tuesday night in the second game of a four-game set at Minute Maid Park.

The Royals (29-50) have lost the first two games of the series after the Astros won Monday afternoon’s opener on a walk-off home run.

Witt went 2 for 5 with three RBIs and his 12th home run of the season, but left the game after getting hit on the hand by a pitch in the ninth inning. Melendez went 1 for 3 with a walk. Whit Merrifield and Kyle Isbel both smacked triples for the Royals. Left fielder Andrew Benintendi (1 for 3, walk, RBI) was on base twice.

Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, third baseman Alex Bregman, first baseman Aledmys Diaz and left fielder/designated hitter Yordan Alvarez belted homers for the Astros (53-27).

“He’s usually the best evaluator of himself, and I know that there were some off-speed pitches that he wasn’t happy with the location on,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Greinke.

“He’s a perfectionist, so he holds himself to a very high standard. The guys kept fighting for him and did a great job of continuing to keep us in the game all the way through.”

The Astros played a video acknowledging Greinke having been a part of their recent run of success that included a pair of AL pennants and another year when they advanced to the ALCS.

“That was good,” Greinke said of the video. “The Diamondbacks decided to show them hitting some home runs off me and then did a tribute. So it was nicer to do it before the game, a nice way of doing it.”

While Greinke wasn’t overly sentimental about his return to Houston, he was disappointed that he gave the Astros lineup so many miscues to take advantage of at the plate.

Greinke had allowed one run in each of his previous two outings since returning from the injured list. He’d also pitched six innings in each of those two starts and allowed a combined seven hits in those 12 innings.

“Command wasn’t that good,” Greinke said. “My stuff felt pretty sharp, but I made a lot of mistakes and didn’t really make a lot of quality strikes. I think pretty much ⁠— I think I had 10 hits ⁠— probably at least eight of them were mistakes.

“They hit some balls hard when I executed, but just about all of their hits were on mistakes. So I made too many of those.”

The Royals scored the game’s first two runs courtesy of a Witt’s first-inning RBI single and a second-inning Melendez solo homer.

Melendez has now hit three home runs in two games at Minute Maid Park.

“I feel really good at the plate,” Melendez said. “I feel the best I’ve felt this year, relaxed, confident, and looking to continue that.”

Greinke couldn’t silence the Astros’ bats for long. The hosts answered with a pair in the bottom of the second after Greinke gave up back-to-back hits to start the inning, including a leadoff double by Bregman. Both runners came around to score, the first on an RBI groundout and the second via sacrifice fly.

Witt’s two-run homer in the third inning, which followed a Benintendi single, restored the two-run advantage. But the Astros again chipped away at Greinke.

With two outs in the fourth, Greinke gave up three consecutive hits. The third hit, a Jake Meyers RBI single, pulled the Astros within a run. After walking former teammate and No. 9 hitter Martin Maldonado to load the bases, Greinke stranded the bases loaded to keep a one-run lead.

But in the fifth inning, the Astros took the lead. First Pena smashed a solo homer to start the inning. Then after an Alvarez single, Bregman hit a first-pitch slider for a two-run homer to give the Astros a 6-4 lead.

The Royals pulled within a run, 6-5, when Isbel tripled and scored on Nicky Lopez’s RBI single in the seventh. But they got no closer as the Astros scored three runs across the seventh and eight innings against Kowar.

The eighth inning presented the Royals an opportunity to turn the game around. A hit by pitch, a replay review that overturned a double play put two men on with no outs and a walk by Melendez and a bases-loaded Michael A. Taylor walk forced in a run.

However, with two outs Lopez hit a deep fly ball to left field with the bases loaded. The ball was caught by Alvarez, who threw a strike to the plate in time to get Hunter Dozier attempting to tag and score from third.

“We’d like to get at least that one run in and get us within one,” Matheny said. “But you’re getting the back-end of their pen. They’re not going to give up a lot. A close play and a good throw made the difference.”