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By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- The Kansas City Royals possess the best road record of any major league team under .500 overall, but their recent struggles away from home have hindered them from moving up the standings in a weak AL Central.
The Houston Astros, meanwhile, are happy to finally be home.
Kansas City looks to avoid a sixth loss in its last eight road games when it continues its three-game series against Houston on Tuesday night.
The Royals entered Monday's contest having won five of six overall, but their ninth-inning rally fell short and the Astros escaped with a 9-7 victory.
It marked the fifth loss in the last seven road games for Kansas City (29-36), which despite being seven games below .500 sits only five games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox (35-32).
The Royals' bullpen pitched nine innings of a 15-inning marathon victory over St. Louis on Sunday, forcing manager Ned Yost to stick with Louis Coleman for two full innings Monday despite allowing five runs in the eighth.
"We were strapped in the pen," Yost said after starter Jonathan Sanchez only lasted six innings. "We didn't have the ability to match up tonight. We had to go as far as we could with Sanchez."
The Astros (28-39) took advantage of the Royals' misfortune, winning in their return to Minute Maid Park after going 3-6 on their latest road trip.
Brian Bixler hit his first career homer in the first and finished 3 for 5 with a career-best three RBIs.
"It was a good way to start the day off," said Bixler, who hadn't previously driven in more than three runs in a season. "I was happy to continue that and put it together for the whole day. So it worked out well."
Houston's nine runs Monday exceeded its total of eight while being swept by Texas over the weekend. The Astros will seek to follow up that performance against Royals starter Luke Hochevar, who hasn't won in more than a month.
Hochevar (3-7, 6.27 ERA) pitched effectively Thursday, allowing three runs in a season-high 7 1-3 innings, but got only two runs of support and failed to get credit for the Royals' 4-3 victory over Milwaukee.
The right-hander is 0-4 with a 5.35 ERA since beating the Chicago White Sox on May 12. He allowed two runs over seven innings in his only career start against Houston, an 11-inning, 4-3 victory for Kansas City on June 24, 2009.
He'll be opposed by Wandy Rodriguez (6-4, 3.35), who is seeking a third straight win. The left-hander beat the Chicago White Sox on June 8, then allowed three runs in six innings to beat San Francisco 6-3 on Thursday.
Rodriguez's only previous start versus the Royals was a loss in 2006.
The Astros had their own bullpen issues Monday, as closer Brett Myers left to boos from the home fans after allowing five runs in the top of the ninth. Myers had allowed five runs in his previous 25 appearances combined.
"In his defense he's been great all year, he's going to continue to be great, it was just a situation where he hadn't been out there in a while and that's my fault," manager Brad Mills said.
Houston is baseball's only team under .500 overall to have a winning record at home (19-14).
Updated June 19, 2012