Revisiting the 2015 World Series run, the Kansas City Royals opened up Game 1 of the ALDS hosting the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium.
Playoff baseball always has a special feel to it and on October 8, 2015, the Kansas City Royals were out to give the home crowd a great beginning to the postseason. The only thing standing in their way were the Wild Card winners the Houston Astros in this best-of-five series. Following a similar path as Kansas City, Houston dealt with a few years of famine, finishing with a losing record since 2009 including dropping over 100 games from 2011-2013.
During that time the Astros made savvy draft picks including George Springer, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. Dallas Keuchel and Preston Tucker. The acquisition of players like Chris Carter, Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and Luis Valbuena turned Houston into high power, low average force. They finished second in the American League in home runs but tenth in batting average. The pitching staff was the best in the league ERA-wise, finished second in hits allowed and surrendered the fewest dingers which was remarkable considering the home run friendly park they played in.
Finishing second in the AL West and beating the Los Angeles Angels by one game for the final wild-card spot, Houston had an elimination game in the Bronx against the New York Yankees. Keuchel was masterful shutting down New York over six innings with Will Harris, Tony Sipp, and Luke Gregerson completing the shutout. Powered by a couple of solo shots from Rasmus and Carlos Gomez, the Astros cruised to a 3-0 win.
The Royals, after the magical run in the 2014 playoffs including their own wild card dramatic win, went on to a 95-67 record in 2015 leading the AL Central by as much as 14 games and closed out the season winning the division by 12. This was their highest win total since their World Series bound team in 1980.
Instead of a cool fall evening, it was 82 degrees at first pitch and 40,146 Royals’ faithful packed the park. Taking the hill for Houston was Collin McHugh who was 19-7 on the year and ended up eighth in Cy Young voting. Kansas City countered with Yordano Ventura, in his second full year with the club, who finished 13-8 and struck out 156 batters in 163.1 innings pitched.
Unfortunately, it was a very auspicious start for “Ace” as he allowed the first three baserunners to reach. Two fielders’ choice ground outs later, Houston took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Ben Zobrist tried to ignite the home team in the bottom half of the inning singling and stealing second but he was left stranded there. After retiring the first two batters in the top of the second, Ventura gave up a double and a run-scoring single to Altuve, who had led the American League in hits and stolen bases in 2015.
Kendrys Morales led off the Royals’ half of the second with a home run cutting the lead to 3-1 but no other base runners were allowed by McHugh. Making a move usually only seen during postseason baseball (but also assisted by a one-hour weather delay), Ned Yost replace Ventura with Chris Young to start the third.
"When the game resumed, the Royals sent Young to the mound rather than Ventura.“It was pushing 60 minutes there,” Yost said. “He was just settling in when it started to rain.” – NBC Sports"
The change worked perfectly the next two frames as Young kept the Astros in check. Morales roughed up McHugh again in the bottom of the fourth with another bomb cutting the lead to 3-2.
Young did falter in the 5th allowing a blast to Springer extending Houston’s lead to 4-2. Young would end up giving Kansas City four much needed innings of work only giving up that one run and striking out seven. Outside of Morales’ performance, McHugh was excellent going six strong innings and only allowing four hits and one walk. Tony Sipp pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 7th while Ryan Madson replaced Kelvin Herrera in the top of the 8th and gave up a long ball to Rasmus to begin the inning putting Houston ahead 5-2.
Kansas City began to rally in the bottom of the eighth with two out against Will Harris, who was masterful in ’15 posting a 1.90 ERA, 0.901 WHIP and 13 holds. First Zobrist singled and Lorenzo Cain followed suit which prompted manager A.J. Hinch to bring in left specialist Oliver Perez in to face Eric Hosmer. After several seasons as a starter, Perez had turned into a hurler who pitched often but usually to face one or two batters in high leverage situations. This year, Perez held southpaws to a 0.517 OPS and struck out 33 of them in 92 at-bats. The move worked as Perez induced Hosmer into foul pop out along third base.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth with the score still 5-2, Luke Gregerson was called upon to close the game. Signing as a free agent after a year spent with the Oakland A’s, Gregorson was handed the closer’s role for the first time in his career. He responded with 31 saves, a 7-3 record and a WHIP of 0.951. Remember though, the Royals got to Gregerson in the Wild Card game the previous year.
Morales struck out to begin the ninth but then Mike Moustakas was plunked by a pitch. Salvador came up to bat but was punched out and Alex Gordon flew out foul to left field slamming the door on a potential rally. The Astros drew first blood taking the first game 5-2 and only needed to win two more to advanced.
On October 9th, we will take a look at what happened during game 2 of this series.