(Photo credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)
On the same night the Houston Astros surpassed 3 million fans in home attendance for the fifth time in franchise history, they suffered a loss that guaranteed a losing record at Minute Maid Park this season.
With their 3-2 setback to the Kansas City Royals, the Astros (85-70) dropped two games below .500 at home with the 2023 home finale set for Sunday. The loss, combined with the Texas Rangers' 2-0 win over the Seattle Mariners, moved Houston 1 1/2 games behind first-place Texas in the American League West with seven games remaining.
The Astros have surrendered four games in the standings to Texas since Sept. 10, when they opened a 2 1/2-game lead with a victory over the San Diego Padres.
Their home collapse has been astonishing. The Astros have dropped 16 of their past 22 games at home and are 1-4-1 in six home series during that span. They need only to draw 12,000 fans in their home finale to post the third-highest single-season home attendance mark in club history behind the 2004 and 2000 campaigns. The 2000 season was their first at Minute Maid Park.
Normally, that benchmark would be worthy of celebration. But with eight losses in 11 games, including six to 100-loss teams Kansas City and Oakland, the Astros are spiraling instead.
"It's like Groundhog Day," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "We're having trouble pushing those runs across, hitting with runners in scoring position. When we do get them, we'll get a bunch of them for a period of time. ... We're so close to breaking the games open."
Rookie right-hander Hunter Brown (11-12, 4.87 ERA) is scheduled to start the series finale for the Astros on Sunday. He surrendered a season-high seven earned runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 9-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. It marked the sixth consecutive start that Brown failed to log at least six innings, and he is 2-4 with an 8.20 ERA during that stretch.
Brown will make his first career appearance against the Royals, who are set to counter with right-hander Steven Cruz (0-0, 4.15). Rookie Alec Marsh is expected to work as a bulk-innings reliever for Kansas City. Cruz, also a rookie, has never faced the Astros.
In his most recent start, which came Tuesday, he held the Cleveland Guardians scoreless despite walking four and giving up one hit in 1 2/3 innings.
The Royals (53-102) have won nine of their past 10 games and five in a row, with four victories against the Astros in the 10-game stretch. Their latest win came with right-hander Taylor Clarke putting out a fire in the eighth inning before retiring the Astros in order in the ninth for his third save of the season.
"The thing about him (Clarke) is he's got a slow heartbeat," Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. "He's going to do the best he can. He's not going to implode. Sometimes he'll get beat, but he's got good stuff."
--Field Level Media