HOUSTON – If the Kansas City Royals have shown anything in recent games, it's that they will fight back, particularly late in games.
On Monday night against the Houston Astros, that late-inning magic came up just short.
The Royals did their best to claw their way out of a seven-run hole, mustering five runs in the ninth inning, only to fall 9-7 to open a three-game series.
"You are down 9-2 and you put the tying run on second base in the ninth inning against their closer, that just shows you what kind of heart this team has," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "They don't quit. They stay after it. Good things will come because of it."
It was a tough loss to swallow one night after claiming a 15-inning marathon at St. Louis in which they trailed after eight innings, only to stage a comeback that earned them the 5-3 win and the series.
That victory came at a price, however, as it left Kansas City with a barren bullpen and — for eight innings, anyway — seemingly with bats too tired to threaten the Astros.
Royals left-hander Jonathan Sanchez (1-3) allowed six hits and four runs in six innings in his second start since a month-long stint on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left biceps.
His trials included surrendering an early lead on Brian Bixler's first career home run, two errant throws to first base and walking in a run with two outs and the bases loaded later in the game.
"My two errors cost me two runs," said Sanchez, whose last win came April 8 at Anaheim. "When I came out of the game, it was a 4-2 game, and it should have been a tied game. I mean, I made those two errors and they cost me the game."
Yet Sanchez's outing was more than serviceable in Yost's eyes, particularly given the precarious situation with his bullpen, depleted after nine innings of service on Sunday.
"Sanchez did all right; he kept us in the game," Yost said. "The two pickoff throws hurt him. The two-out walk with the bases loaded hurt him Besides that he gave us six innings and kept us in the game."
Louis Coleman, one of two relievers Kansas City recalled from Triple-A Omaha on Monday to help the bullpen cope, didn't fare much better, rocked for five runs in the eighth inning that included a solo shot by Brian Bogusevic and a two-run homer by Justin Maxwell.
"We were strapped in the pen," Yost said. "We didn't have the ability to match up tonight. We had to go as far as we could with Sanchez."
The Royals entered the series opener having won five of their previous six, and three of those wins had come after trailing after eight innings, including Sunday.
Jeff Francoeur gave the Royals a short-lived lead in the first with a two-out RBI single to center that scored Yuniesky Betancourt, who had tripled.
Alex Gordon, who finished 3-for-5 with a double, brought Kansas City within two in the sixth, scoring from third on a groundout.
Astros left-hander J.A. Happ (5-7) gave up four hits and two runs in 6-plus innings to break a four-game losing streak. It was his first start since allowing 11 hits and eight runs — both career highs — in Houston's 10-0 loss to San Francisco in which Matt Cain threw a perfect game.
But the bulk of Royals' offense arrived in the ninth inning, when they unloaded on Brett Myers.
The Astros closer allowed four consecutive singles with one out to make it 9-3. The Royals got another run on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Mitch Maier and Betancourt's bases-loaded single scored two more.
Billy Butler had an RBI single to get Kansas City within 9-7 and bring loud boos from the crowd. The eighth hit of the inning, a single by Francoeur, chased Myers, bringing in Xavier Cedeno, who retired Mike Moustakas to get his first career save.
"We battled back," Francoeur said. "What a great comeback, but at the same time our goal is to win series."
NOTES: Kansas City placed 2B Chris Getz on the 15-day DL on Monday with a strained left leg. Along with Coleman, they also recalled LHP Tommy Hottovy from Omaha. They optioned RHP Nate Adcock to Omaha to make room on the roster for Hottovy. ... These teams continue the series on Tuesday when Houston's Wandy Rodriguez opposes Luke Hochevar.