Relief pitchers key to Royals 2-1 win over Astros

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 6:21 p.m. CDT; updated 8:57 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Kansas City Royals' Yuniesky Betancourt, left, tries to turn a double play over Houston Astros' David Carpenter (28) in the ninth inning of a baseball game Wednesday in Houston. The Astros' Matt Downs was safe at first. The Royals won 2-1.

HOUSTON — The Kansas City Royals figure their offense will come around sooner or later. Until then, they're happy to rely on a bullpen that keeps helping them eke out close wins.

Bruce Chen pitched into the sixth inning on three days' rest and the Royals used four relievers to close out a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday.

Alex Gordon tripled and scored for Kansas City, which took two of three from the Astros and has won seven of nine overall. Thirteen of Kansas City's last 14 games have been decided by two or fewer runs, including six one-run games.

Manager Ned Yost smiled when asked what all these close games are doing to him.

"I'm fine. Piece of cake. We had them all the way," he said.

Chen (6-6) struck out six in 5 2/3 innings and was charged with one run and five hits. Pitching on three days' rest for the sixth time in his career, Chen bounced back from his last outing when he yielded six runs and seven hits in just 1 2/3 innings against St. Louis, but still received a no-decision in the Royals' 10-7 loss.

Houston put runners on the corners with one out in the ninth, but Jonathan Broxton struck out Brian Bixler and retired Jordan Schafer to earn his 18th save in 21 chances.

"They've been doing it all year and once again they came up big today," Gordon said of the relief pitchers. "A 2-1 win, it feels like we've been doing that all year. I swear one of these days our offense is going to get rolling and we're going to start giving the bullpen a rest. Hopefully it will come soon."

Yost was impressed with Broxton's poise in the ninth.

"The thing about him is he doesn't panic," Yost said. "He stays calm and continues to make pitches."

Kansas City's pitchers have been particularly good late in games, posting a major league-best 1.31 ERA in the ninth inning or later. That performance has helped make up for an offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in the American League.

"We'll start putting some big numbers up, but these wins are important, too," third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "These 2-1 wins, these nail-biters give us a lot of momentum going home."

Houston starter Jordan Lyles (1-4) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings. He has bounced around between the Astros and Triple-A Oklahoma City this season.

"I've been looking for an outing where I can just turn that corner," Lyles said. "Hopefully, this was it and that's what I'm striving for. It is big because I know I can pitch up here and get outs."

The Astros had eight hits, compared to just four for Kansas City, but they went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

"It's the key situations where we're just not able to find the holes," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "There's a lot of things we can point to like guys trying too hard, putting a little too much pressure on themselves. When you start to struggle in those situations, it starts to mount."

The Royals grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Moustakas hit a leadoff double, moved up on Alcides Escobar's grounder and scored on Brayan Pena's infield out.

Gordon tripled with one out in the sixth and scored when Yuniesky Betancourt reached on an error by shortstop Jed Lowrie. Billy Butler then bounced into a double play to end the inning.

Houston got on the board in the bottom half, but lost out on a chance for a bigger rally.

Schafer and Carlos Lee opened the inning with consecutive walks, and Schafer moved to third when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play. Lowrie drove in Schafer with an infield hit and Chris Johnson chased Chen with a single to left, but Kelvin Herrera struck out Chris Snyder to end the inning.

The Astros also had a chance to take the lead in the eighth. Lee hit a one-out single into right field, barely beating Jeff Francoeur's throw to first. Martinez then walked before Greg Holland struck out Lowrie and Johnson.

Chen got into a jam in the fourth when Martinez doubled with one out and Lowrie was hit by a pitch. But he struck out Johnson and Snyder to end the threat.

Lyles got off to a great start, retiring 12 of his first 13 batters, including the first six.

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