"We battled back there at the end, but it just wasn't quite enough," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We were just one hit away."
It was the Royals' fourth straight loss, the last three inflicted by the Mariners, who hold a 6-1 advantage in the season series with one game to go. And on Sunday, the M's will be sending King Felix Hernandez to the hill.
For the first time in seven games against the Mariners this season, the Royals scored first. They rustled up an unearned run in the first inning when Alcides Escobar bunted safely, took second on third baseman Kyle Seager's wild throw and scored on Billy Butler's looping single to right -- the first of his three hits.
Butler has been a rare success story on this West Coast trip; he's 10-for-21 (.476) with five RBIs.
In their previous six meetings, five won by Seattle, the Mariners had outscored the Royals in the first two innings by a not-so-grand total of 24-4. So it was major accomplishment when Royals starter Bruce Chen held them scoreless in the first two innings on Saturday.
Alas, it didn't last. In the Mariners' third, Casper Wells singled and Jesus Montero lifted a home run, his 10th, over the left-field wall. He connected on a first-pitch cutter from Chen.
"It was down and in. You can't say it was a bad pitch. Sometimes guys that have power, they're going to get a pitch and they're going to drive it," Chen said.
Montero, who is hitting .609 (14-for-23) with 10 RBIs in the six games against the Royals, knew what he was looking for.
"I was looking for something soft, because my first at-bat was soft, soft, soft," he said. "I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it, and thank God I hit a home run."
After the sunshine broke through the clouds, Seager lofted a popup into short left field that had Alex Gordon fighting the glare. The ball dropped safely for a double and Seager scored on Miguel Olivo's single to make it a three-run inning.
Mariners starter Kevin Millwood followed that first-inning run with eight straight outs and settled into a groove as he headed toward his first victory since May 23. Included in his 10 straight starts without a win was a no-decision in Kansas City 10 days ago, when the Royals pummeled him for 10 hits and seven runs.
Down 3-1, Brayan Pena led off the Royals' seventh with a hit to right field and tried for a double but was thrown out by Wells.
"I was trying to spark something, trying to hustle down there to see if we could start something," Pena said. "I was going hard from the box and when I saw him bobble it, I took a shot. But I'm not one of the fastest guys, so next time I would think twice before I do it."
But after Millwood departed, the Royals did get something going with an eighth-inning run against right-hander Brandon League on Gordon's one-out double and Escobar's triple. But Escobar was stranded at third.
Royals left-hander Jose Mijares had one of his rare off-days in the bottom of the eighth, when he began the inning with two walks and then couldn't get a forceout at third after fielding Seager's sacrifice bunt.
"Gotta go to third," Yost said. "He just rushed the transfer. I think he bobbled it a little bit and just rushed his throw."
That loaded the bases with none out and right-hander Greg Holland relieved Mijares. Pinch-hitter John Jaso's grounder was fielded by first baseman Eric Hosmer who threw to catcher Pena for a forceout. But Pena took a moment to make sure he touched the plate and there was no return throw to Hosmer for a possible double play.
"It would be a tough one," Pena said.
That preceded a sacrifice fly by Mike Carp that gave the Mariners a 4-2 lead.
The Royals, though, weren't quite done. Against closer Tom Wilhelmsen in the ninth, Hosmer lined a two-out single and scored as Lorenzo Cain's high fly to right field apparently got lost in the sun and wasn't caught by Wells. It dropped for a run-scoring triple.
"Fastball away, I put a good swing on it, but got under it a little bit," Cain said. "The end result was pretty good -- better than I thought initially. But I'll take it."
With Cain on third with the potential tying run, Gordon bounced out to end the game.
"We're trying to do everything we can to get out of this funk," Chen said. "But you can't panic, you just have to do it one step at a time. I know I lost today, but I felt like it was a step in the right direction."