By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The playoff hopes of the Kansas City Royals rank somewhere between slim and minute with none looming. But a series with the Seattle Mariners is providing them a reason to hope.
The Mariners and their punchless offense mustered three runs on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium, which seems like a lot considering the output over the few weeks. But it wasn’t enough.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Salvador Perez singled to left off Yoervis Medina and Mike Moustakas raced home ahead of the throw to score the go-ahead run in a 3-3 game. The Mariners had no chance against Kansas City closer Greg Holland in the ninth inning, going down in order and losing to the Royals 4-3.
It was Seattle’s third straight loss. And over the course of their past 12 games, they are 3-9. Those three wins came against the worst team in baseball — the Houston Astros.
Manager Eric Wedge has sounded like a song on repeat since returning from a month-long absence when describing the team’s hitting struggles. There are so many ways he can lament about his team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position or even on base.
“We aren’t scoring a great deal of runs,” Wedge said. “But it’s not because we don’t have opportunities. We’ve had some opportunities but we just aren’t taking advantage of them.”
So what can they do?
“The key is just keep getting guys on base,” said third baseman Kyle Seager. “If you keep getting guys on base, you are eventually going to get hits there.”
The Mariners (62-75) had plenty of guys on base, but the hits weren’t there. Seattle had 10 hits in the game and stranded seven runners, while going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. In the last four games, they are 1-for-28 with runners in scoring position.
The squandered chances started early. The Mariners had runners on first and third with no outs in the second inning and failed to score. In fact, they didn’t hit a ball out of the infield. In the third inning, they had a runner on second with one out, and had two straight ground balls to end the inning.
They finally broke through in the sixth inning, down 3-0. Franklin Gutierrez singled off of Royals starter Bruce Chen. Seager continued to show why he’s the Mariners best hitter this season, blasting a deep two-run homer to right field. It was Seager’s 22nd home run of the year and his 10th off of left-handed pitchers.
“You definitely want to improve with anything,” Seager said. “Hitting lefties was definitely one of the areas we talked about improving. There’s been a couple adjustments I’ve made this year.”
His homer was just the Mariners’ third extra base hit in their last 32 innings of baseball.
Seattle tied it an inning later. Abe Almonte reached on a bunt single. Wedge brought in Kendrys Morales to pinch hit for Brendan Ryan. The move worked. Morales singled sharply to right field. Almonte, who was running on the pitch, easily made it to third base.
“It was good to see Kendrys get a big hit tonight,” Wedge said. “We need to get him going.”
Almonte easily scored as Brad Miller grounded out to second.
The Mariners had good chance to take the lead in the eighth. Raul Ibanez reached on a one-out infield single off reliever Tim Collins. Justin Smoak followed with a double down the left field line. With runners on second and third and one out, Royals manager Ned Yost called on Luke Hochevar to pitch to Mike Zunino. Hochevar struck out Zunino looking and got Endy Chavez to fly out to center to end the inning.
“He really pitched Zunino tough,” Wedge said.
It looked as though the Mariners got a break in the eighth inning. Eric Hosmer drew a lead-off walk from reliever Charlie Furbush. Wedge replaced Furbush with right-hander Medina to face the right-handed hitting Billy Butler. The move worked as Butler grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.
The break for the Mariners was that Hosmer was probably safe at second. He was stealing on the play and Seager still elected to throw to second for the force out. Replays showed that Hosmer beat the throw.
But the good fortune lasted for only a minute or two. Moustakas hit a lower liner to center field. Rookie Abe Almonte tried to make a diving catch on a ball he had no chance of catching. The ball got past him a little and Moustakas was able to get a double instead of being held to a single.
“It’s an aggressive, young play,” Wedge said. “But he’s not going to make that catch. The best play for him is to probably pull up and catch it on a hop and keep him at first and keep him out of scoring position. He’s trying to make a play right there, just a little overly aggressive.”
That one base was huge. All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, who had two hits earlier, including a homer, singled to left field to score Moustakas.
Starter Erasmo Ramirez gave the Mariners a decent outing, pitching 61⁄3 innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
Royals’ lead-off hitter Alex Gordon hit Ramirez’s first pitch of the game over the wall in left field to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead.
“You don’t expect that on the first pitch,” Ramirez said. “He had a good swing and hit it hard.”
Perez homered in the fourth inning and Butler had an RBI single in the fifth.
“They were a couple bad pitches,” Ramirez said. “Today I didn’t feel my best, but I did my best. And I have to do that every time I go to the mound.”