By Brian McTaggart and Jeffrey Flanagan
HOUSTON -- Ace lefty Dallas Keuchel turned in another fantastic effort before the home crowd, rejuvenated slugger Chris Carter bashed a home run and Minute Maid Park was rocking. It's becoming a way of life for the Astros.
Keuchel held the Royals to one run in seven innings, and Carter had three hits, including his first postseason home run, to lift the Astros to a 4-2 win before a raucous crowd of 42,674 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday afternoon.
The Astros, playing at home in the postseason for the first time since the 2005 World Series, took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, and they can close it out by winning Game 4 on Monday, live on Fox Sports 1 at 1 p.m. ET.
"We have a lot of playmakers on this team that can change the course of a game with one swing or one pitch, and just now that we're getting into the playoffs and getting on that national stage, it's a shock to a lot of people," Keuchel said. "But it's been there."
Of Kansas City's situation of needing two straight wins, outfielder Alex Gordon said, "It can be done. We've won two straight before."
"Yeah, it's a five-game series, we know that," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We have got to win two, they got to win one. But [if] we come out tomorrow and we win, then it's excitement back at The K for Game 5. So, we're looking forward to that."
Jason Castro gave the Astros a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning with a two-run single up the middle off Royals starter Edinson Volquez, who allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. Kansas City had taken a 1-0 lead in the fourth on a leadoff homer by Lorenzo Cain.
"It's been a long road," said Castro, who, along with Keuchel, was on Houston's 111-loss team in 2012. "We knew that it would be a few years before we could be at this point, but we trusted the process, tried to better ourselves through that time and just hoped that once we got in this situation, we would be ready."
Keuchel, who went 15-0 in the regular season at Minute Maid Park, fed off the energy of the crowd and won his second postseason start in six days. In 13 postseason innings, he's allowed one run.
"It means everything to me," Keuchel said of playing at home. "You saw what the crowd was today. Even when I gave up that solo home run, I knew if I kept the team in the game, we had a pretty good shot to win. [It was an] electric crowd, and it was 10 years coming, so hopefully we can bring the same electricity tomorrow and have a good game."
The Astros took a 3-1 lead in the sixth on a Carlos Gomez RBI single, and Carter led off the seventh inning with a towering homer to left field off Danny Duffy to make it 4-1. Carter singled in the first and was thrown out at second base trying to stretch it to a double, and he doubled and scored in the fifth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Castro comes through: Castro, who's struggled mightily at the plate since he returned from the disabled list, hit a two-run single to center field off Volquez in the fifth inning to give Houston a 2-1 lead. He was 6-for-49 since coming off the DL on Sept. 17, including 0-for-9 in the playoffs prior to his clutch hit.
"I was just trying to get a pitch out over [the plate] just to put something in play in the middle of the field, just to get at least one run in," Castro said. "And fortunately [the ball] got through and we got both. But it was nice. [That was a] good time to get my first hit in the postseason, that's for sure."
Lo's good and bad: Cain had a terrific at-bat in the fourth inning against Keuchel and worked him for 10 pitches. On that 10th pitch, Cain blasted a homer to left field, measured at an estimated 423 feet, per Statcast™. It was Cain's first postseason homer and it gave the Royals a 1-0 lead.
But Cain also had a rare drop in center that led to an Astros insurance run. George Springer ripped a shot toward the left-center-field alley, and while Cain got there in time, he dropped the ball after grabbing it with a lunge. Springer was credited with a double and later scored to make it 3-1.
"It was a sinking line drive, and my momentum just kind of carried me too far and it popped out," Cain said. "It's a catch I've made a million times, and I didn't make it today."
Hinch lets Keuchel face Cain: Houston manager A.J. Hinch went to the mound with two outs in the seventh inning to talk to Keuchel prior to his matchup against Cain, who had homered in the fourth. Hinch let Keuchel face him again, and he struck him out swinging to end his day after 124 pitches and strand a runner at third base.
"I figured he was going to let me pitch to their best hitter," Keuchel said. "And I thought I deserved it. Made a mistake pitch early in the game, but I felt like I really still had the energy and the pitch quality to get another out."
Tough day for Gordon, and then ... Gordon struck out with a runner on first in the second, but he really had a chance to bust the game open in the fourth. Kansas City had just grabbed a 1-0 lead and Keuchel seemed to be wobbling as he had two on and two out. Gordon got ahead in the count, and on 2-0, he got the pitch he wanted -- a belt-high fastball. But Gordon got around late, broke his bat, and hit an innocent fly ball to left. Gordon also struck out with a runner on third and two out in the sixth. But then Gordon led off the ninth with a towering opposite-field homer, cutting the lead to 4-2.
Of Keuchel, Gordon said, "He's tough. His velocity doesn't do him justice. It gets in on you really fast. And that power sinker is as good as there is."
"We don't care about how old you are, we don't care about your experience level, we don't care what you've done in the past. We care about what you're going to do tonight. And we had a lot of guys step up tonight." -- Hinch
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Royals catcher Salvador Perez saw a 1-2 count in 119 plate appearances during the regular season -- exactly one of those plate appearances ended in a walk. But he did it again in the fourth inning.
• Including the regular season, Keuchel has gone 16-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 19 home starts. The last AL pitcher to win 16 home games between the regular season and postseason was Jack Morris (16-3) in 1991 for the Twins.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Yordano Ventura comes back on three days' rest for the pivotal Game 4 on Monday. Ventura worked Game 1 and gave up three runs in two innings before a 49-minute rain delay. Kansas City did not bring him back after the delay.
Astros: Rookie right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. gets the call for the Astros in Game 4 at Minute Maid Park with a chance to clinch the series. This will be the first playoff start for McCullers, who was called up from Double-A earlier this season.