Lance McCullers Jr. nearly threw a no-hitter and it got worse for the KC Royals, who at least earned a split against the AL-leading Astros.
Voodoo dolls, shamans, reverse-jinxes and exorcisms. KC Royals would’ve tried anything through the first six innings of Thursday night’s finale against the Houston Astros, if only Lance McCullers Jr. would allow a hit.
One night after ace Dallas Keuchel got scratched (and hours after he hit the disabled list), LMJ was attempting to stave off a series win for the KC Royals. And despite a surprisingly competent start from Jason Hammel, it was McCullers Jr. who was the pitcher of note in the Astros 6-1 win.
Overshadowed by McCullers Jr.’s outing was that Thursday was likely Hammel’s strongest showing in the Royals rotation. He scattered four hits and one earned over seven innings, striking out four and taking his ERA down by half-run. He was unscathed on the scoreboard until the sixth, when he balked in Norichika Aoki with Jose Altuve at the plate.
Okay, so Hammel wasn’t perfect. Still a much-improved outing for him.
But McCullers was… dare I say… Jason Vargas-esque? From a game-opening strikeout of Whit Merrifield (followed later by Lorenzo Cain’s inning-ending double play) through Jorge Bonifacio’s lead-off ground out in the seventh, McCullers was cruising toward a no-hitter.
Then Cain laced a triple past George Springer in center and Mike Moustakas singled him in two batters later. Tie game. Neither McCullers nor Hammel would factor into the decision, an unfortunate outcome for two gentlemen who really did pitch tremendous games.
Joakim Soria’s eighth inning was picturesque in relief of Hammel—he struck out Alex Bregman, Aoki and Springer, each on 2-2 counts, to put a tie game in the (usually) capable hands of Kelvin Herrera after a two-out single from Drew Butera in the home eighth went for naught.
[cue record scratching to a halt]
Herrera has had his struggles against the Astros—and hasn’t been nearly as stable as many hoped following Wade Davis’ departure—but Thursday was a meltdown unseen since Chernobyl.
Leadoff walk to Josh Reddick.
Two-run homer by Altuve, to the deepest part of the park.
Carlos Correa triple.
Brian McCann sac fly to score Correa.
Evan Gattis single.
End of outing for Herrera.
Herrera’s line: 0.1 IP, three hits, four earned, one walk. He exited with a 5.55 ERA.
If you’ve been following the thread of this particular narrative, I doubt I need to tell you how the ninth inning turned out for the KC Royals.
It’s West Coast time for our heroes in blue this weekend, as the KC Royals make an interleague trip to San Diego to face the garbage-fire Padres. Eric Skoglund (1-1, 4.32 ERA) faces Jhoulys Chacin (4-5, 5.65 ERA) in the opener. It kicks off a nine-game swing in the Golden State for the Royals.