Mariners cruise in Kansas City after five-run first

Mariners cruise in Kansas City after five-run first

Mariners cruise in Kansas City after five-run first
KANSAS CITY -- Maybe all the Mariners needed was a little road cooking. Or warm weather. Or Royals pitching. But after struggling again to score runs last weekend at Safeco Field, Seattle jumped quickly on Kansas City's Jonathan Sanchez on Monday and rolled to a 9-4 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

On a 96-degree Midwest evening, the Mariners tallied their most runs in nearly a month, as Casper Wells and Justin Smoak each hit first-inning home runs and Dustin Ackley added a solo shot in the sixth to lead the barrage.

Wells went 2-for-5 with a home run, triple and a career-high five RBIs, his three-run blast setting the early tone for Seattle before there were any outs in the first.

"That was nice to get some offensive production going," Wells said, as the Mariners opened their seven-game road trip on the right foot.

Two batters later, Smoak followed with a two-run shot, his first home run since June 19. He's up to 12 for the season, with nine of those coming on the road.

"It's always big, especially on the road," Smoak said of the quick start. "We've definitely shown we hit better on the road, but it's not easy. I've only been here once and a lot of these guys have never been here, so it's never easy to step into a new place and play. But we went out there today and Casper did a great job early to get us on the board, and we just went from there."

The home-road differences continue to be glaring for the Mariners. Seattle is hitting just .196 and scoring 2.9 runs per game at Safeco Field this season, compared to .256 and 4.9 on the road.

Smoak went 1-for-4 with a walk, his average still sitting at .199, but he was encouraged by the home run, as well as a scorching line drive in the seventh that was pulled down by left fielder Alex Gordon.

"That was probably as hard as I've hit a ball all year right-handed," said Smoak. "It's never fun when those don't fall in, but it all evens out in the end. If you keep having good at-bats and squaring the ball up like that, it's only a matter of time for good things to happen for you."

The Royals did their own longball damage against Seattle starter Jason Vargas, who gave up home runs to Salvador Perez and Billy Butler in a three-run third. But those were the only runs Vargas allowed in his six-inning stint, as he worked around seven hits and three walks on a night he didn't strike out a batter.

"The changeup wasn't that sharp, the fastball wasn't super crisp," said Vargas. "It was just one of those games where I had to navigate and our offense put up some runs and gave me some breathing room."

Vargas has allowed 25 home runs in 20 starts, the most in the Majors this season and three more than he gave up in all of 2011. But given a seven-run cushion after two innings, the veteran lefty pitched well enough to win his second straight start, improving to 9-7 with a 4.09 ERA.

Manager Eric Wedge was impressed with the way Vargas steadied himself and fixed a control problem after struggling with his command initially.

"I was just able to get the ball down better," Vargas said. "I told [pitching coach Carl Willis] I really didn't feel like I knew where I was throwing the ball. I just really didn't have a good feel for my release point or anything, but I just stayed with it and was able to get the ball down in the zone.

"I think they'd gotten to the point where they thought, 'OK, this guy is up and let's start being aggressive with him.' But I was able to get it back down, and I think that worked to my advantage."

It didn't hurt to have some welcome run support as well. After putting up five runs in the first on the long balls by Wells and Smoak, Seattle added two more in the second on Wells' two-run triple before the Royals pulled Sanchez with just one out in the inning.

The Royals chipped away with their two home runs in the third before the Mariners responded with an RBI triple by Ichiro Suzuki in the fourth for an 8-3 lead. Ackley tacked on another with his sixth home run, an opposite-field blast off reliever Everett Teaford in the sixth.

Teaford was scheduled to start Tuesday's game, but instead went the final five innings. The Royals are expected to bring up a Minor Leaguer to pitch Tuesday, with veteran lefty Doug Davis the likely candidate.

"It was one of those games where they were just on [Sanchez] tonight," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They swung the bats good and put seven runs up early. There was not really much we could do. I knew that we were either going to blow the bullpen out or blow tomorrow's starting pitcher out, so we took the second route."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.