KANSAS CITY, Mo. Things finally started to fall apart for Seattle starter James Paxton in the eighth inning Thursday night.
The full meltdown came when Steve Cishek entered in the ninth.
The Mariners’ veteran closer gave up a leadoff single, plunked a batter and then served up a two-run double to Salvador Perez that allowed the Kansas City Royals to rally for a 4-3 victory to open their four-game series leading into the All-Star break.
Not to mention ruin what should have been Paxton’s big night.
“I don’t know if you can be much more in control of the game to being on the wrong side of things in an inning and a half,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Tough game to lose.”
Paxton only needed 78 pitches to cruise through eight innings, but he started to crack when Paulo Orlando hit a two-out double off him to get Kansas within 3-2. He retired Alex Gordon to escape the inning.
Cishek (2-5) came on to close, and Whit Merrifield’s double, the hit-by-pitch of Kendrys Morales and the timely shot from Perez ultimately sent the Mariners to their 10th consecutive road defeat.
“How many times have we been through it? I mean, we fight. We keep fighting,” said Danny Duffy, who kept the Royals in the game with 6 1/3 strong innings. “You’re never out of the game with these boys.”
Brooks Pounders (1-0) earned his first career win with a scoreless inning of relief.
“It’s a great moment in my life,” the big reliever said. “To walk away with a win in that game is just unbelievable. It says a lot about the team we have here.”
The win snapped a four-game skid for Kansas City. Seattle now has lost four in a row.
“You lose as a team,” said the Mariners’ Robinson Cano. “We don’t want to blame anybody here.”
The Mariners built an early 2-0 lead not with a homer – they entered the game tied for second in the majors with 128 of them – but with old-fashioned small ball. Dae-Ho Lee scored from second on Dan Robertson’s single in the second inning, and Robertson scored after a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Nelson Cruz added a homer off Joakim Soria in the eighth.
Those three runs seemed insurmountable the way Paxton was cruising along.
He induced inning-ending double plays the first two innings, then another one in the third after back-to-back singles led it off. Ketel Marte then made a nice play ranging out from third base on Alex Gordon’s blooper into shallow left field to leave Brett Eibner on third base and end the inning.
The worst throw Paxton made before the eighth wasn’t to the mound but to first base, when Kendrys Morales chopped a grounder back to him the previous inning. Paxton’s throw slipped and bounced halfway to the bag.
With everything else going for him, it still beat Morales easily for the out.
“Pax pitched a good ballgame,” Servais said. “I felt very good about leaving him out there in the eighth inning. He certainly didn’t have many pitches. His stuff was still good. Tough game to lose.”
STATS AND STREAKS
Morales was 0 for 3 before getting hit by a pitch in the ninth, allowing him to extend his streak of reaching safely to 21 starts. … The Mariners lost for the fourth time when leading after eight innings. … Cruz homered for the seventh time in his last 14 games.
The Royals are sending RHP Chris Young to the bullpen and will start RHP Dillon Gee or LHP Brian Flynn in Sunday’s series finale. Young is 2-8 with a 6.90 ERA in 15 appearances, 13 of them starts. He’s also given up a league-leading 26 home runs despite pitching many of his games at spacious Kauffman Stadium.
Royals RHP Kris Medlen has been shut down after straining his shoulder during a rehab outing. Medlen was 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA in six starts before going on the disabled list in May with rotator cuff inflammation. “He is going to be no-throw for a couple weeks,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.