HOUSTON -- One night after their bullpen imploded following an exceptional outing from their starter, the Houston Astros turned three quality innings of redemptive relief into a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Left-hander Travis Blackley and right-handers Hector Ambriz and Jose Veras preserved the one-run lead they inherited from Jordan Lyles (2-1) en route to claiming the rubber game of this three-game series. The Royals (21-22) 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, Veras has allowed just one hit over 11 appearances and 11 1/3 innings.
The Astros (14-33) ran into a spot of trouble in the eighth when Royals second baseman Chris Getz worked a walk off Blackley to open the frame. But Getz was erased trying to advance on a ball in the dirt, and Ambriz rebounded to retire Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon in order.
Shields 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 back to July 20, 2012. However, a bit of misfortune followed by a mistake to J.D. Martinez put Shields, and the Royals, in an early hole.
With two outs in the first inning, 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 over the wall in right field, giving the Astros a 2-0 lead in a frame Shields nearly escaped unscathed.
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 a run-scoring 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.
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 has hit safely in 10 consecutive games. ... All four of the Royals' series rubber games have come on the road. They had won the previous three before Wednesday.