HOUSTON -- Trailing by seven runs in the ninth and facing Astros closer Brett Myers, it looked like the Royals might endure their first boring ninth inning in weeks.
But their bats came to life, plating five runs on eight singles and bringing Mike Moustakas to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Summoned to stop the bleeding, reliever Xavier Cedeno got Moustakas to pop out to first, and the Royals fell, 9-7, on Monday at Minute Maid Park to take their second loss in seven games.
"You're 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," manager Ned Yost said. "They don't quit. They stay after it. Good things will come because of it."
With a limited bullpen worn down from extensive use in St. Louis over the weekend, the Royals got six much-needed innings from starter Jonathan Sanchez, who hadn't pitched into the sixth since June 12, 2011.
"He gave us six innings in a start where we needed some length," Yost said. "And he kept us in the game."
Two bad pickoff throws and a bases-loaded walk factored into Sanchez's topsy-turvy final line: four runs (three earned) on six hits, four walks, two hit batsmen, three strikeouts and a homer on 106 pitches. The Astros scored twice in both the first and the fourth innings.
Kansas City couldn't get much off starter J.A. Happ, who pitched to one batter in the seventh and gave up two runs on four hits. Yuniesky Betancourt scored after tripling in the first and Alex Gordon scored after doubling in the sixth, but the Royals went down in order in the second, third and fifth inning.
"I felt good out there," Happ said. "I felt like I was in control."
To lead off the seventh, Mike Moustakas walked off Happ and Alcides Escobar singled off reliever David Carpenter. But after Humberto Quintero flied out to right, Moustakas and Escobar tagged up. A strong throw from right fielder Brian Bogusevic, a former pitcher who came into the game in the sixth, beat Escobar to second for a double play and the second out of the inning.
Jarrod Dyson walked off lefty specialist Wesley Wright, forcing Yost to decide if he wanted outfielder Mitch Maier or first baseman Eric Hosmer to pinch-hit in the pitcher's slot due up.
Yost, thinking that the pitcher's spot may not come up again, went with Hosmer, who struck out on a pitch outside the zone to end the inning with two runners left on base.
With a 4-2 lead in the eighth, the Astros struck for five runs off reliever Louis Coleman, called up from Triple-A Omaha on Monday to provide some much-needed bullpen relief.
"We had to go as far as we could with Sanchez and go as far as could with Coleman and hope that he could get us through it," Yost said. "The matchups were set for him. It just didn't happen."
But with three outs to go, a seven-run deficit and a 15-inning marathon a day prior, the Royals didn't stop hitting. Four straight singles off Myers, who had warmed up during the eighth when the Astros led by just two, led to a run. A sacrifice fly from Mitch Maier plated another. Three more singles led to three more runs. All of a sudden, the Royals had the tying run at second base with Moustakas coming to the plate.
"To Brett's defense, I know that's a tough, tough place to come in sometimes," right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "You're down 4-2, 5-2, getting yourself jacked up and then it's 9-2. I think for him, before he realized, it just kind of unraveled."
The Astros brought in Cedeno, a lefty, from the bullpen, who got Moustakas to pop up to first base on a 2-2 pitch to end the game. Francoeur, who remembers just about every time he made the final out in a close game, said Moustakas was beating himself up over the at-bat, but shouldn't.
"He's been swinging the ball great for us and had a good at-bat," Francoeur said. "Just missed it."
Having Sanchez (1-3) go six innings should help the Royals' bullpen become close to full strength again. Nobody who pitched Saturday or Sunday out of the bullpen was used Monday.
Francoeur said that even though the Royals didn't pull off a miraculous victory, the team is confident heading into Tuesday with a more-rested bullpen for the rest of the series. They're pleased with making a serious comeback, but they aren't satisfied.
"Our goal is to win the series," Francoeur said.
Clark Goble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.