KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A must win in August? That seems like a little bit of a stretch considering after Friday night the Mariners still have 51 games remaining in the season.
But in the immediacy of this key four-game series with the Kansas City Royals, the prospect of the Mariners losing a game with James Paxton on the mound would’ve erased any chances of a series win, made even salvaging a series split seem unlikely and getting swept a looming possibility.
And as the seventh inning began, the Mariners were trending toward a third straight defeat, down a run with an offense that seemed out of sorts and was missing cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz, who had been scratched from the lineup due to neck spasms.
But Seattle scored three runs in the top of the seventh on run-scoring hits from Guillermo Heredia, Jarrod Dyson and Leonys Martin, and tacked on another in the eighth to rally for a 5-2 win over the Royals.
The Mariners improved to 56-55 on the season. They are now 52-18 when scoring four or more runs in a game.
“Outstanding come-from-behind win for us,” manager Scott Servais said. “It didn’t seem like there was going to be a lot of runs scored, but we were able to put some pressure on them and put a crooked number up there.”
It’s been quite obvious this season that Paxton is the Mariners’ best starting pitcher. While he’s always had top-of-the-rotation stuff, he’s now also using it effectively and pitching with the mentality befitting his ability.
“He’s absolutely carried us,” Servais said. “There’s no doubt. He’s embracing being the guy that we look to. Good for him, he’s worked his tail off. If you look at where he was a year ago to where he’s come, it’s awesome.”
Paxton pitched six innings, giving up two runs on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts to improve to 12-3. It was his seventh straight win, tying the club record held by Jamie Moyer and Scott Bankhead.
“He’s going to give you everything he’s got and you know you have a good shot to win that game,” Dyson said.
Paxton cruised through the first four innings, allowing just one base runner – a leadoff walk to Whit Merrifield to start the fourth.
But his early no-hit bid was broken up with one out in the fifth inning on a Mike Moustakas single to right. He would later score on Brandon Moss’ two-out single to left field, tying the score at 1. It was the first run Paxton had allowed in 21 innings.
“They got a look at me and started to get on me,” Paxton said. “My breaking stuff was on and off. They strung some hits together.”
He lost the lead an inning later. He gave up a double to Merrifield and a single to Lorenzo Cain to put runners on the corners. A passed ball moved Cain into scoring position.
But after getting a ground out from Melky Cabrera and striking out Eric Hosmer, it looked as though Paxton might escape unscathed. But a curveball in the dirt to Salvador Perez bounced off the chest protector of Mike Zunino. The ball skirted far enough from home that Merrifield decided to make a break for the plate.
Zunino got to the ball and tossed it to Paxton, who was charging from the mound. As Paxton went to catch the ball and make a sliding tag on the hustling Merrifield, the ball didn’t stay in his glove and the Royals had a 2-1 lead.
“I went for the tag a split second too soon,” Paxton said. “It just ticked off the end of my glove. If I wait a split second to catch the ball, I probably could’ve got him. Z made a good feed. But I just didn’t catch it.”
Seattle got a first-inning run off Royals starterJason Hammel. But the M’s didn’t score again until the seventh. Kyle Seager singled with one out, stole second and scored on Heredia’s double to left field. The Royals went to lefty Ryan Buchter in relief. But Dyson hurt his old team for the second straight game, slapping a single into center that allowed Heredia to score. With two outs and Dyson on second, Martin blooped a single into right to make it 4-2.
The Mariners bullpen was perfect. David Phelps was dominant in the seventh. Nick Vincent pitched a quick 1-2-3 eighth and Edwin Diaz recorded his 22nd save without drama.
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