HOUSTON — After beginning a three-game series here with a win over the best team in baseball, the Royals couldn't retain momentum against the Astros. They lost 11-3 on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, dropping their second game in a row after starting pitcher Jason Hammel imploded in the second inning.
Astros infielder Yuli Gurriel led off the frame with a double. Then, as the 10th batter of the inning, he lifted a 92-mph fastball thrown in on his hands to the Crawford Boxes in left field for a grand slam.
The home run capped an eight-run frame in which Hammel tossed 34 pitches to 11 batters, was on the short end of a catcher's interference that allowed a run to score, gave up two-run single to Jose Altuve and issued three walks.
"Hard to wrap your head around," said Hammel, who was charged with nine runs (seven earned) on six hits in four innings. "Eight runs on basically two swings. But five walks. You put guys on base for free and make mistakes and that's what happens."
The mistakes sealed the Royals' fate. They could score just once off Astros starter Gerrit Cole, who surrendered a solo homer to Lucas Duda during a five-inning outing, and twice off an Astros bullpen that yielded three hits.
A road trip that began with a pair of heroic moments from Rosell Herrera two days ago has quickly gone awry. For the 18th time this month, an opposing team held the Royals to fewer than four runs. They've taken advantage of a Royals offense that has battled consistency all of June, batting at a majors-worst .186 (127 for 683) rate during a 3-18 stretch.
The Royals will need to win four of their next five games to avoid posting the worst June record in team history. With a two-game series against the National League Central division-leading Brewers looming after Monday's detour to Kansas City, where the Royals will make up a game with the Angels, accomplishing such a feat won't come easy.