KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch has a "soft rule" when it comes to a rain delay during a game: If it lasts about an hour, he usually will remove his starting pitcher.
Good thing it's not a hard rule.
Hinch opted to keep Collin McHugh on the mound after a 49-minute stoppage Thursday night, and the soft-spoken righthander responded with a resounding performance. He shut down the Kansas City Royals over six innings for a 5-2 victory in the opener of their AL Division Series.
"We checked in with him a couple times, but he was never really coming out of that game," Hinch said of McHugh, a surprise 19-game winner this season. "That wasn't even his best tonight, and he got through a pretty good lineup and battled."
Handed a 3-0 lead through two innings, McHugh gave up two solo homers to Kendrys Morales for Kansas City's only two runs. Three relievers took over and got the game to Luke Gregerson, part of Oakland's wild-card collapse in Kansas City last year. He handled the ninth for a save.
George Springer and Colby Rasmus went deep for the homer-happy Astros, but they also scored via the same sort of small ball the Royals used in reaching the World Series last season.
"Winning the first game was key," Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez said. "We did that."
Yordano Ventura yielded three runs on four hits and a walk in two innings for Kansas City, but did not come back following the delay. Chris Young served up Springer's home run with one out in the fifth, but tossed four otherwise solid innings of relief.
Game 2 is Friday, when lefthander Scott Kazmir takes the mound for Houston against righty Johnny Cueto in a matchup of pitchers traded days apart this past summer.
"It's a five-game series," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's not a death sentence to lose Game 1."
Added Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer: "Obviously, it's not the way we wanted to start out, especially at home. We need to get out of here splitting the series 1-1."
The Astros, who struggled so mightily on the road this season, have apparently solved their woes just in time. They closed out the season by going 4-2 at Seattle and Arizona, shut out the Yankees in New York in Tuesday night's wild-card game, then took care of a Royals club built specifically for spacious Kauffman Stadium.
Houston also made it the first time since 1970 that visiting teams won baseball's first four postseason games, STATS said. The other two times it happened were 1906 and 1923.
"Everyone knows we haven't been playing the best on the road," Astros reliever Tony Sipp said. "To take one in New York and come here, it shows we're a different kind of team."