KANSAS CITY -- Rookie right-hander Jake Junis was excellent in a spot start and Melky Cabrera drove in four runs as the Royals rolled to a 9-1 win over the Mariners in Game 2 to split Sunday's doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals pulled a half-game ahead of the Rays and 1 1/2 games in front of the Mariners for the second American League Wild Card spot. Kansas City also sits 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Indians in the AL Central.
Junis, the 26th man for the twin bill, went eight innings with a career-high seven strikeouts, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. Junis, who made his first Major League start since June 29, gave up one run on four hits to pick up his fourth win of the season.
"I definitely felt like I hit a stride around the fifth inning," Junis said. "I was getting some quick outs and some quick innings, and a lot of momentum. It just carried."
"His curveball and slider were his 'A' curveball and slider," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It was a big boost for us."
After Danny Espinosa's RBI double opened the scoring in the second inning, Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez was tagged for five runs on eight hits over his five frames in the loss.
The Mariners settled for a split of the four-game series after winning the opener of their first doubleheader since 2014.
"It was an emotional first game and we hung on, and guys were fired up, but you have to carry it right over to the second game, and we just didn't get enough going early on," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "They put some good swings on Erasmo. The middle of their lineup, we just couldn't keep under control. We did a pretty good job in this series until the last game. Then, they got their hits and drove in runs. They're good. They got it going and we just couldn't stop them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Melk-man delivers: With the scored tied at 1 in the third inning, Cabrera launched his first home run since being acquired by the Royals in a trade on July 30. Following a solo home run by Whit Merrifield, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer both singled with two out. On a 1-1 pitch, Cabrera, who was a triple shy of the cycle, drilled his 14th home run of the season to right-center, giving the Royals a 4-1 lead.
Espinosa opens door: The Mariners had a prime opportunity to turn a double play during the Royals' four-run seventh inning, but that was squandered when backup first baseman Espinosa threw the ball into left field. With Cam Gallagher on second and Merrifield on first, Cain hit a sharp ground ball to Espinosa. Shortstop Jean Segura was late to the bag, and Espinosa threw the ball into the outfield, allowing Gallagher to score. The Royals scored three more runs in the inning off Cody Martin, who was the Mariners' 26th man for the twin bill.
"I thought clearly the baserunner tried to interfere with the throw and got out of the basepath," said Servais, who went out to complain after Espinosa pumped once and then tried to throw around Merrifield. "I was confused on what the umpire was trying to explain to me there. He went a couple different routes. But I thought clearly he looked to interfere with the play, which is a heads-up baserunning play. I don't know how allowable it is, but he got away with it."
"One inning was the big damage. Same as in Texas, one inning just changed everything. Everything from now on is going to be about keeping the ball inside the ballpark because that's the only way they're getting runs against me. That's what I have to work on, and execute better with my pitches." -- Ramirez, after he gave up three homers in his second start since being acquired from the Rays
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Jarrod Dyson stole his AL-leading 27th base in the first inning. The Mariners center fielder -- and former Royal -- is 27-for-33 on attempts this season and 203-for-239 in his career, the second-best all-time percentage among players with at least 200 attempts at 84.9. Carlos Beltran has the top success rate at 86.4.
With Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez on the 10-day disabled list, Gallagher made his Major League debut in the ninth inning of Game 1 and started Game 2. Gallagher reached base for the first time on a walk and scored on Espinosa's throwing error. Then, in the ninth inning, Gallagher dropped a single into center field for his first Major League hit. Yost said Gallagher received the ball well behind the plate, too.
"It was everything I think he ever dreamed about," Yost said.
WHAT'S NEXT Mariners: Left-hander Ariel Miranda (7-5, 4.24 ERA) will start on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. PT when the Mariners open a two-game road series against the A's. New first baseman Yonder Alonso should be in the lineup for Seattle after being acquired on Sunday in a trade with Oakland.
Royals: Right-hander Ian Kennedy (4-7, 4.60) starts the opener of a four-game home-and-home series against the Cardinals at 7:15 p.m. CT on Monday at Kauffman Stadium. The I-70 Series shifts to Busch Stadium for the final two games on Wednesday and Thursday. Kennedy has allowed three runs or fewer in seven of his past nine starts.