HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve kickstarted the Astros' three-run third inning with his seventh home run, matching a career high, while Lance McCullers allowed just one run over seven innings as the Astros topped the Royals, 6-1, on Monday.
Chris Carter also launched a towering, 421-foot home run to lead off the fifth -- his 14th of the season -- but this Astros' win didn't just boil down to the long ball. Patient at-bats from the Major League leaders in strikeouts led to three straight walks in the second inning -- the last of which came with the bases loaded to put the first run on the board -- and inflated Royals starter Joe Blanton's pitch count.
"The discipline tonight was excellent," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "We didn't swing out of the zone too much, specifically early. You always ask your guys to take whatever they give you and he was nibbling on the plate or just off the plate and we just continued to take our base, take our base."
Blanton, who entered the game seeking his third consecutive win, looked a far cry from the pitcher who came into the contest with only two earned runs in his last 11 innings. He struggled with his command and needed 74 pitches to make it through 2 2/3 innings.
"It was pretty simple, he just struggled with command," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "His first inning was OK, but by the second inning, he was just battling his command the rest of the way."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Mechanical McCullers: Though he allowed the leadoff man on in five of his seven innings and had a runner on second with less than two outs in each of the first two innings, McCullers wiggled around trouble before Salvador Perez took him deep to lead off the seventh -- just the second homer McCullers has surrendered in his young career. He's now allowed one earned run or fewer in six of his first nine Major League starts and has at least six strikeouts in seven of those nine. The rookie finished June with a 2.11 ERA, the lowest for an Astros rookie in June since Darryl Kile in 1991.
"They were pretty aggressive, especially that second and third time around the lineup, just able to execute and go deep in the game," McCullers said. "I think a lot of guys have a plan going up there, but I just try to stay focused on my plan, execute on what I do best and the results will come." More >
Losing Command: Blanton's solid starting resume crumbled thanks to some early command issues. The Astros scored two runs off just a single hit in the second due to three straight walks by the righty. Another walk in the third set the stage for back-to-back RBI singles by Houston, which ousted Blanton from the game, but not before the Astros had a 5-0 edge. It was Blanton's shortest outing since joining the rotation two weeks ago.
"It was just that kind of night," Blanton said. "Never really found control on the pitches and trying to make adjustments and it just wasn't happening." More >
Altuve sparks rally: Though he downplayed the tight All-Star race between he and fellow Venezuelan Omar Infante before the game, Altuve bested his countryman in the first game, knocking a home run into the Crawford Boxes on the second pitch of the third inning. Altuve's home run spurred a three-run Astros inning from which the AL West leaders never looked back. Preston Tucker and Domingo Santana added back-to-back RBI singles in the inning, which eventually chased Blanton. Infante finished the game 0-for-4.
"He's a strong guy," Hinch said. "People might not expect it out of him but he puts barrel contact on the ball a lot and he's learning how to drive the ball, which is somewhat hard to say when you talk about Altuve learning because everybody feels he's already arrived and he's already won a batting title. This guy is just tapping into the well-rounded hitter he can be." More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Monday was the first time since 2005 the Astros played a game in Minute Maid Park that featured two teams at least 10 games over .500. That 2005 contest against the Cardinals had a pitching matchup of Chris Carpenter and Roger Clemens.
"He just had a really good, hard slurve-type breaking ball. It wasn't a true curveball, wasn't a true slider and with a big break to it. Very impressive pitch." -- Yost, on McCullers."
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: The visitors in this division-leading showdown will trot out Danny Duffy on the bump On Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. CT. The southpaw is still looking to re-establish himself in the Kansas City rotation after missing a month with a shoulder injury. He's looking to improve on the 88 pitches from his return start against Oakland and lower his 5.44 ERA and 1.70 WHIP.
Astros: Fresh off a shutout of the Yankees, Houston ace Dallas Keuchel (9-3, 2.17 ERA) gets the ball for the Astros at 7:10 PM CT in Minute Maid Park for the second of the three-game set. A win would give Keuchel back-to-back 10-win seasons after he tallied just nine wins in his first two Major League seasons combined.