By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
KANSAS CITY — More ninth-inning magic from the Mariners. How’s that for getting the summer started in style?
Dustin Ackley’s two-out RBI single provided the difference in a tight pitchers’ duel Saturday afternoon and lifted the Mariners to a 2-1 victory over Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.
Add this thriller to Friday’s victory, when the Mariners won 7-5 in the series opener by scoring twice in the ninth inning and … well, you ready to believe yet?
“Anytime you’re winning those types of games,” Ackley said, “that’s right where you need to be. If you want to have a winning season, you have to win games like this.”
Stick with that thought and consider: As the first day of summer closed Saturday, the Mariners, at 39-36, were one game out in the wild-card standings. Now … think about the last few years.
This is better, isn’t it?
Who knows if this continues, but it’s hard to argue Ackley’s point, i.e., that the last two games are the types of games that good teams win — especially against good teams … and the Royals entered the series atop their division.
Saturday saw Chris Young match ex-Mariner Jason Vargas in a 1-1 game through seven innings. Vargas then worked a one-two-three eighth and got two quick outs in the ninth before the Mariners struck.
Kyle Seager pumped a two-out double into the right-center gap, which prompted a mound visit by Royals manager Ned Yost, who opted to stay with Vargas.
“I felt great in the ninth inning,” Vargas said. “Just a little bit of bad luck got us, and I think we all know what happened after that.”
The strategy should have worked.
Stefen Romero hit a short-hopper to second, but Pedro Ciriaco bobbled the ball. It was scored a single instead of an error. Whatever. Seager took third. And Ackley followed with a line drive to right.
“That’s uncharacteristic of Ciriaco and that team,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “They’re a good (defensive) team. We were lucky. We got a break and took advantage of it.”
Ackley worked the count to 2-2 against Vargas, who played for the Mariners from 2009-12, before pulling a fastball through the right side for an RBI single.
“I was behind early,” Ackley said, “and I know he’s one of those guys who will throw any pitch in any count. He’s not afraid to pitch in at all.
“I fouled a couple of fastballs off the end (of the bat). Then, finally, he threw me another one in, and I was able to get the barrel to it. Fortunately, I got it to the outfield.”
That finished Vargas.
The Mariners had a chance for more.
With runners at first and third against reliever Kelvin Herrera, Ackley broke for second. Catcher Salvy Perez faked a throw — and then trapped Romero, who bought the fake and broke for home.
Romero extended the rundown, but the Royals handled the ball cleanly and recorded the out.
One run was enough, though.
Fernando Rodney closed out the victory, as he did Friday, for a save. No. 20. Yoevis Medina, 4-1, got the victory for pitching a scoreless eighth after Young limited the Royals to one run and three hits in seven innings.
Typically, Rodney pumped a little extra drama into the ending. He walked speedy Jarrod Dyson with one out but then ended the game by getting Eric Hosmer to ground into a double play.
Vargas dropped to 7-3 with a final line that showed two runs and 10 hits in 8 2/3 innings. The only run he permitted before the ninth scored when the Mariners bunched three well-placed singles in the third inning.
All three hits against Young came at the start of the fifth inning after he was perfect through four. He threw 99 pitches, including 72 for strikes, on a hot afternoon: 91 degrees when the game started.
“I grew up in it,” Young said. “I grew up in Texas. I played in games hotter than this. So I enjoyed it. It reminded me, a little bit, of being a kid. That’s fun. It’s challenging. You have to stay hydrated.”
The only batter to reach second against Young was Alex Gordon, who tied the game with a leadoff homer in the fifth inning.
“You make a mistake,” Young said, “and he hits it out. He’s a really good hitter. But I can live with it. It’s a solo homer and, ultimately, we won the game.”