Homer by Lopez Isn’t Enough for Royals against Astros

KANSAS CITY — When the ball cracked off the bat of Nicky Lopez during the third inning on Thursday afternoon, the sound turned heads. The Royals’ shortstop doesn’t exactly have a penchant for power, so when he drove a ball toward the right-field fence, everyone inside Kauffman Stadium turned and watched as it sailed through the air.

Everyone except Lopez.

“I don’t know, was it a wall-scraper?” Lopez said, following his team’s 6-3, 10-inning loss to the Astros. “I just put my head down and ran because I’m not really used to [hitting homers].”

It wasn’t exactly a mammoth homer — 381 feet, according to Statcast — but the ball cleared the fence and landed in the bullpen, good enough to bring in two runs and mark Lopez’s first home run of the season. Yet it wasn’t enough to help Kansas City complete a four-game sweep on a 4-6 homestand.

The homer snapped a streak of 464 homerless at-bats for Lopez, which was the second-longest active streak in the Majors, trailing only Magneuris Sierra (471).

“That was awesome,” Lopez said. “I’m just glad that now I can look up at the scoreboard and see there’s not a zero there, and there’s a 1.”

The fact that Lopez hadn’t homered is far from a knock on his game — he’s having a breakout season on offense, but he just hadn’t found the right pitch to drive out of the yard. But when Astros starter Luis Garcia hung a curveball down and in, Lopez did just that — something his teammates were ecstatic to finally see.

“One of the best things was looking into the dugout though, and seeing my teammates, how happy they were and smiling and laughing, and joking around,” Lopez said. “That made my day.”

Lopez also shined in a more familiar department: on defense. He made a number of excellent plays with the glove, most notably when he dove to his right, sprung briefly to his feet and fired a two-hop dart to Carlos Santana at first as he fell to the grass to retire Jacob Wilson in the fifth.

“You just expect it,” manager Mike Matheny said of Lopez’s ability on defense. “You can tell he wants the ball hit to him. And that’s always a great place for a defender to be, where you’ve just got so much confidence, you want the ball, and you just want to make a play.”

Unfortunately for Lopez and the Royals, his all-around performance wasn’t enough as the finale unraveled in a three-run 10th inning. His homer gave Kansas City a 3-0 lead, but after a mostly solid start to the finale, Mike Minor allowed a Carlos Correa single with one out in the sixth before yielding back-to-back doubles to Aledmys Díaz and Chas McCormick to even the score at 3.

Minor gave up seven hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings.

“So far, there’s been one inning that’s kind of got Mike,” Matheny said. “And there was the one that got him for a couple today that cost him. But I thought he did a nice job pitching up until that point.”

The Royals were gifted a chance to walk it off in the ninth, when Hunter Dozier singled and Santana, who had also singled, advanced to third on an errant throw by first baseman Yuli Gurriel. That brought pinch-hitter Hanser Alberto to the plate, but he grounded out to third to end the threat.

In the 10th, Wade Davis allowed a pair of singles and a walk, enough to score automatic runner Gurriel and put the Astros ahead for good. Davis had been money out of the bullpen for Kansas City since the All-Star break, allowing just two runs in 10 innings, but he yielded three runs (two earned) without recording an out.

Earlier, Santana helped to preserve the tie with his glove. With Jose Altuve representing the potential go-ahead run on third in the seventh, he fielded a grounder off the bat of Yordan Alvarez. In a split-second decision, Santana rifled the ball home to catcher Cam Gallagher, who put a nice tag on Altuve to nab him at the dish.

Lopez and Santana’s performances on the defensive end were nothing new for the Royals, who made a number of great plays with the glove over the course of the series.

It may be harder to celebrate that series victory given how it ended, but Matheny made sure to remind his guys that, while they couldn’t secure the sweep, it was big for them to be able to come out on top against one of baseball’s top clubs.

“Made my way through the clubhouse, make sure the guys know, that’s a great series they played,” Matheny said. “There’s still the pain of this one, you feel like it’s right there, you’ve got a couple opportunities to make something happen. We just had to have a big hit. But I thought overall, they went about it this whole series the way we want to see them go about it.”

That’s a sentiment shared by his budding young shortstop.

“It’s one of those things, if we come in every single day ready to work, ready to compete, whether we win or lose,” Lopez said. “This is one of those that you kind of write down, and it shows that we can compete with the best teams in the league. … Just to be able to compete and just see that we’re battling each and every game is definitely encouraging, and just shows that the future is bright here.”