KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Make that three in a row now for the Royals after a disheartening 2-1 loss to the Mariners, who were aided by two soft runs.
Despite the sudden slump, Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said there is no reason for alarm: "We’re just biding our time until we go on another run."
Saturday’s defeat came late when the Mariners pinched across a soft run in the ninth, moments after Kansas City manager Ned Yost had a visit with starter Jason Vargas on the mound.
Vargas, on a sweltering 90-degree day, had already thrown more than 100 pitches. And the lead run was on second with two out. But Vargas persuaded Yost to let him stay in. Then, Stefen Romero squibbed a soft flair toward second base that went for a hit. And Dustin Ackley followed with a jam-shot single to right.
"It’s one of those things where you can look like the dumbest guy in the stadium," Yost said of leaving Vargas in. "And today I looked like the dumbest guy in the stadium."
Meanwhile, the Royals’ offense — so electric the past three weeks — went into a hole against soft-throwing Mariners right-hander Chris Young.
"It’s hard to explain," Yost said of Young’s effectiveness. "You watch the video and you see a fastball around 85 and a slider that he mixes speeds with. You don’t see a whole lot. But the players come back and say it’s tough to hit."
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— Vargas deserved better. Vargas pitched a fantastic game, and both Mariner runs were tainted (see below). Vargas did a fantastic job of getting out of the third when, after a run scored, the Mariners had runners on first and third with none out. But Vargas got Robinson Cano to pop out. Then Vargas got Logan Morrison to roll into a 4-6-3 double play. Vargs, on a miserably hot day, lasted 8 2/3 innings, giving up 10 hits and two runs. He threw 115 pitches.
"I was fine," he said. "You know it’s hot in Kansas City. You know what you signed up for."
— The Yost decision. Yost likely will get toasted by fans and bloggers for leaving Vargas in after visiting the mound with two outs and the lead run on second. But fans at The K loved it, loudly cheering the decision and the confidence Yost showed. And it would have looked like the right decision if Pedro Ciriaco had made the play at second base (see below).
"It wasn’t a long conversation," Vargas said. "He asked if I was good to go, and I said yes."
— Alex leads the way. The Royals didn’t have a hit or a baserunner until Alex Gordon pumped a Chris Young pitch over the bullpen in right field to lead off the fifth inning. Gordon began taking charge of the offense more than a month ago and hasn’t let up. He leads the team with nine homers and 40 RBI. No one else chipped in Saturday.
"He was the only guy who could see Young today," Yost said. "He almost hit two out — the first one just missed to right."
— A bunt and a bloop and a bloop. The Mariners got themselves a cheapie run in the third. Brad Miller, who homered to beat the Royals on Friday night, led off with a so-so bunt to Vargas’ right. He fumbled it momentarily and threw late to first. Miller was given a hit. Then James Jones blooped one into short left. Then Cole Gillespie, after failing to lay down a sacrifice bunt on two attempts, broke his bat and looped a flare into center field for an RBI.
— A double-play machine. It’s official now: No one in baseball has grounded into more double plays than Sal Perez. After Gordon walked with one out in the seventh, Perez went after the first pitch and rolled into an easy 6-4-3 double play. That was the 15th this year already for Perez, tying him with Alex Rios.
Perez obviously gets a little too anxious with runners on base and too often swings at pitchers’ pitches. Of course, the even bigger one was the double play that Eric Hosmer rolled into in the bottom of the ninth. Representing the winning run, Hosmer — just after Jarrod Dyson had walked — rolled into a double play on the first pitch, ending the game.
"He was just trying to hit a home run and win it," Yost said. "Sitting on a pitch."
— Gotta make that play. The Mariners got the go-ahead run with the help of a squibber that Ciriaco simply didn’t play well. With two outs in the ninth, Kyle Seager laced a double to right-center. But Vargas, left in by Yost, got Stefen Romero to hit a little squibber out to Ciriaco for what looked like the third out. But Ciriaco didn’t charge it and let it play him. Predictably, he fumbled it and threw way late to first. That gave Ackley a chance to hit and with a 2-2 count, he stroked a single to right.
"That’s a play you have to make," Yost said. "He was kind of in between. You either charge it or step back and let it come back to you."