It was in an inauspicious start to the day for the Royals, but they battled back to split a doubleheader against the Mariners on Sunday afternoon to preserve their lead for the second Wild Card spot. The Royals rallied back from a large deficit in the first game, but could close the gap in an 8-7 loss. That offense carried over into the second game as the Royals clobbered the Mariners for nine runs behind a gem from pitcher Jake Junis in a 9-1 blowout victory.
Things started off very poorly, very quickly for Danny Duffy in Game One. In the first inning, hee walked Jean Segura on a full-count pitch which was very close to the strike zone. Traitor Danny Valencia followed up the walk with a two-run bomb into right center which Lorenzo Cain could only turn and watch fly out of the park. Three batters later, lefty Kyle Seager deposited the ball two rows deep in the right-field corner. They were the first two home runs allowed by Duffy in Kauffman Stadium all season. Seager’s was only the second home run Duffy has allowed to a left-hander all year.
In the second, the Mariners were given five outs to work with and took advantage of it to score four more runs. Jean Segura walked on another close full-count pitch, this time with two outs. Duffy had him picked off but Eric Hosmer failed the rundown, intercepting a throw aimed at Duffy, allowing Segura to retreat safely to first. Valencia hit a two-strike single into center. Duffy then struck out Robinson Cano on what was originally ruled a wild pitch but was eventually ruled a passed ball. Drew Butera chased the ball without a sense of urgency allowing Segura to score from second, Valencia to advance to third, and Cano to reach. Nelson Cruz belted a three-run bomb into left center to extend the Mariners lead to 7-0.
A rally mantis appeared on top of Ewing Kauffman’s statue’s head during the television broadcast in the middle of the third inning, giving fans a sign of hope. In the bottom of the third, Alex Gordon singled and Whit Merrifield took Marco Gonzales very deep to left-field to get the Royals on the board.
In the fifth inning, Butera led off with a walk and Whit hit a single to put runners at first and second again, this time with no outs. Lorenzo Cain hit a sharp grounder down the right field line for an RBI double, convincing M’s manager Scott Servais to pull Marco Gonzalez for Jamie Pazor. Eric Hosmer predictably hit a groundball, but this time it was a productive out, advancing both runners to score another run. Melky Cabrera hit a deep line drive to center field and scored Cain. The Royals were on the comeback path, down only two, and finally had some of those productive outs they’ve been missing ever since their winning streak ended in Boston.
Ned went to the pen with two outs in the sixth inning, ending Duffy’s day with a line of 5 2/3 innings with seven runs allowed, but just three earned thanks to the ruling on the passed ball. After a brief outing by Peter Moylan, Ned Yost turned to Scott Alexander when Robinson Cano stepped up to the plate. Alexander got Cano swinging but allowed Nelson Cruz to belt a 465-foot bomb just right of the scoreboard in center to make it 8-5
In the eighth inning the Royals were scuffling. Eric Hosmer had killed a potential two-out rally in the seventh with yet another weak grounder to the right side. But Melky Cabrera led off with a bloop single to left-center. Moustakas came to the plate and took a terrible swing on a 2-0 pitch and fouled it off. Everyone feared the worst. But the next pitch he saw was right down the middle and turned into home run number 31 into the right-center seats. Jorge Bonifacio successfully worked a walk to put the tying run on base. Alcides Escobar successfully bunted him to second. Gordon struck out on an inside slider and pinch-hitter Brandon Moss swung at a pitch in on his hands and popped out to end the threat.
Brandon Maurer avoided trouble after allowing a triple to Danny Valencia, but the Royals could not muster a rally in the ninth to complete the comeback. The Royals fell to the Mariners 8-7, their fifth loss in six tries.
In Game Two, it looked like the Royals might get buried again. Rookie starter Jake Junis, up as the “26th man” for the doubleheader, allowed a pair of single in the first, but was able to work his way out of trouble. In the second, Danny Espinosa doubled home Leonys Martin to put the Mariners on the board 1-0. But that would be all Seattle would get off Junis, who was masterfully efficient all evening. Junis retired the next 19 hitters in a row, and completed eight innings, the longest outing of his short Major League career. He struck out seven, walking none, and allowing just four hits and one run.
Offensively, the Royals lineup got kickstarted off Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez. Whit Merrifield homered off Ramirez in the third, his second home run of the day, to tie the game 1-1. After Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer singled, Melky Cabrera drilled a pitch over the fence for his first home in a Royals uniform this year. The three-run blast made it 4-1 Royals, a lead they would never look back from.
Eric Hosmer seemed to snap out of his funk with a three-hit game, including a solo home run in the sixth, his 17th of the year. The Royals really poured it on against Cody Martin, up as the “26th man” for Seattle. Rookie Cam Gallagher led the seventh off with a walk, followed by a single by Whit Merrifield, who was 4-for-9 on the day. A throwing error by Espinosa on a ball hit by Lorenzo Cain scored Gallagher, but Eric Hosmer would plate two more with a single. Melky Cabrera doubled home Hosmer to make it 9-1, and even Cameron Gallagher got his first Major League hit, putting the cherry on top of the Sunday blowout sundae.
The Royals improve to 57-53, and maintain a half game lead over the Rays for the Wild Card and 1.5 games over the Mariners. They scored as many runs today than they had in the previous week, covering the last six games, so perhaps the offense is getting back on track.