On a day when Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez had his good stuff and Royals' left-hander Danny Duffy was bounced after just 3 2/3 innings, the Mariners were left scratching their heads about a 3-1 loss to Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.
Generally, it's a good thing for Seattle when the Mariners see an opposing starter walk off the mound in the fourth inning. But whereas Duffy allowed nine baserunners and needed 91 pitches to record just 11 outs, reliever Will Smith didn't require any such high-wire act.
Smith allowed just one hit over 4 1/3 innings after taking over with the Royals trailing, 1-0. Kansas City quickly tied it in the fourth and then manufactured two more runs in the fifth off Hernandez to grab the opener of a four-game series.
The Mariners know it was their inability to land a firm knockout punch against Duffy that doomed them in the end. Seattle stranded 10 and finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. The Royals stranded just four runners.
"We had plenty of opportunities early and did a very poor job a couple of times with runners in scoring position," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
The Mariners (62-75) left two runners on in each of the opening four innings. Cleanup hitter Kendrys Morales struck out twice with two on and less than two outs and No. 5 hitter Justin Smoak also couldn't deliver in a couple of two-on sequences.
The Mariners finally broke through in the fourth after Abraham Almonte lined a two-out double for Seattle's first extra-base hit in 22 innings. Brad Miller followed with an RBI triple that barely eluded right fielder David Lough. But after Nick Franklin walked, the Mariners' offense came to an abrupt halt.
Out came Duffy, in came Smith and that 1-0 lead was short-lived.
Hernandez, roaring back from a poor start against Texas, was touched for a tying run in the fourth on soft singles by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler and a well-struck RBI single by Mike Moustakas.
Then the Royals proceeded to play small ball against Hernandez for two manufactured runs in the fifth that proved decisive. With one out, speedy Jarrod Dyson beat out a roller to first. The Royals then played hit-and-run, and Alcides Escobar executed perfectly with a grounder through the vacated hole at second to set up a first-and-third situation. Escobar stole second and, after Dyson scored on a wild pitch, Emilio Bonifacio delivered a sacrifice fly.
Without hitting one ball hard, the Royals had scored two runs.
"Tough luck," Hernandez said as he reviewed the fourth and fifth innings. "A couple of ground balls that just found holes. It was enough for them to win the game."
The Royals (71-66) continue to fight for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. Meanwhile, the Mariners just want to finish strong in September and maybe spoil somebody's playoff hopes along the way.
Miller credited Smith for stopping Seattle in its tracks after Duffy departed early.
"[Smith] had a pretty good slider and threw it for strikes," Miller said. "It was real tight, and he made us chase. He also had a fastball and changeup to keep you honest. He got in a good rhythm there."
Yost knew he had hit on something when he saw the swings that the Mariners were taking against Smith.
"They just had a real hard time picking up the ball on him," Yost said.
Hernandez left for precautionary reasons in the seventh with a lower back cramp. He wound up allowing three runs on six hits and only a couple of those hits were delivered with authority.
For the Mariners, it was a day of thinking about what might have been with another timely hit or two in the opening innings.
"I don't mind taking a step back if it's for two steps forward," Wedge said. "The one recurring theme is not taking advantage of opportunities offensively."