KANSAS CITY, Mo. – At his introductory news conference seven months ago, newly hired Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t promise wins.
In fact, he singled out only one thing he demanded from his players: Respect their opponents but fear nobody. That was his motto, and he wanted his team to take on that part of his personality.
So consider the significance of the Mariners’ 2-1 win against the Royals on Saturday, a win that prompted McClendon to bring up those old words again.
“Listen, they respect their opponents, but they don’t fear anybody,” McClendon said. “And that’s all I wanted. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
The Mariners (39-36) beat the red-hot Royals (39-35) for the second straight game by once again conjuring ninth-inning magic. This time, it was Dustin Ackley who delivered the winner – a two-out single off Royals starter Jason Vargas that put Seattle ahead 2-1 in the ninth. The night before, Brad Miller’s solo home run broke a tie in the ninth and lifted the Mariners to a win.
“If you want to have a good, winning season, you have to win games like this,” Ackley said.
Kyle Seager started Saturday’s ninth inning rally with a two-out double off Vargas. That prompted a visit from Royals manager Ned Yost, who had two relievers ready in the bullpen. He opted to leave Vargas in.
And that’s when the Mariners caught a little break: Stefen Romero hit a sharp liner to Royals second baseman Pedro Ciriaco. Ciriaco misplayed the ball on a short hop, and it bounced away from him just enough to allow Romero to reach with a single.
Ackley, who entered the game as a pinch runner for Jesus Montero in the seventh inning, capitalized by driving in Seager with a single.
“You’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities,” McClendon said. “You’ve certainly seen it happen to us time and time again this year.”
For the majority of the game, though, Mariners fans were probably experiencing deja vu. The Mariners twice wasted good pitching performances in San Diego earlier in the week because their offense went cold.
That trend played out again early in Kansas City, where Chris Young pitched seven high-quality innings. He retired the first 12 batters he faced. He retired the Royals in order in six of his seven innings.
His lone hiccup came in the fifth inning, when Alex Gordon broke up Young’s perfect game with a leadoff solo home run.
Young gave up two more hits in the inning, but neither base runner advanced to second. In fact, besides Gordon’s home-run trot, Young didn’t allow a Royal to reach second all game.
It was only the second time Young didn’t give up a run in a start this season, and the first since he went six scoreless innings in mid-April.
“He pitched extremely well,” McClendon said. “He made one mistake, but other than that he was outstanding.”
Young worked with an early lead when Cole Gillespie drove in Miller with a single of his own that gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead. Young gave it back on Gordon’s homer, and then the two sides bunkered down for an offensive standoff.
Vargas scattered 10 hits over 8 2/3 innings and gave up only two runs. But the Mariners dialed up the timely late hit again.
“We’ve got a good group of guys in here,” Young said. “A group that doesn’t quit.”