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Seattle Mariners

Mariners blow eight-run lead in loss to Royals

Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals is congratulated by teammates after a 10-9 win over the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium on June 07, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri.   (Getty Images)
Ryan Divish Seattle Times

KANSAS CITY — It happened … again.

The frustrating nightmare from Sept. 25, 2022 that manager Scott Servais endured and will only mention with a tinge of painful humor somehow painfully played out in front of him again Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

After watching his team rack up seven runs in the first inning and later lead by eight runs in the fourth inning, it seemed like he might enjoy a pleasant night where the Mariners roll to one of those rare victories free of late-inning drama or leverage situations for a taxed bullpen.

But for some reason, the Mariners are incapable of doing that against the Royals in their venerable stadium with its signature waterfalls cascading constantly beyond the outfield walls.

The dream of a drama-free evening dissipated by the sixth inning. And the Mariners’ hope of holding on for a win ended in frustrated disbelief as they trudged off the field while the Royals raucously celebrated a 10-9 walkoff victory.

Down 9-7 going into the bottom of the ninth, Kansas City scored three runs off interim closer Ryne Stanek to cap what should be an improbable rally.

But …

“It was a crazy game,” Servais said. “We played that game here a few times.”

Indeed, back in late September of 2022, with the Mariners still fighting to end a 21-year postseason drought and trying to hold off the Orioles, they held an 11-2 lead over the Royals in the sixth inning, thanks largely to an eight-run fifth inning. KC rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth, scoring 11 runs and eventually prevailed 13-12. It was a stunning late-season meltdown that had even the most optimistic Mariners fans wondering if the franchise was cursed.

Servais even called a team meeting after that game to implore his players to treat it like any other loss and just flush it.

There was no meeting after Friday’s loss. Even with the loss, Seattle (36-29) still leads the AL West by five games. It’s a game they should’ve won, but the nature of the loss doesn’t make it any worse.

“You’ve got to give those guys a ton of credit,” Servais said. “They kept putting pressure on us and creating opportunities and they finally broke through. We’ve got to let it go. We’ve got a good team and we’re in a good spot. Our offense did a lot of good tings tonight and we’ll build on that. I like our chances if we come out and score nine runs tomorrow.”

The Mariners couldn’t have started off the game much better. Facing lefty Daniel Lynch, a lineup heavy with right-handed hitters put together an early lead that was typical of Arrowhead Stadium, which sits next door in the massive sports complex.

With two outs and the bases loaded, Mitch Garver worked a walk to push across the first run of the game, refusing to chase any of the off-speed pitches out of the zone from Lynch after falling behind early in the count.

Mitch Haniger cleared the bases with a double into the gap in right-center to make it 4-0.

But the Mariners weren’t finished. Newcomer Victor Robles notched his first hit as a member of the team, sending a double into left-center that scored Haniger.

Ryan Bliss, the No. 9 hitter in the Mariners order, punctuated the inning, crushing a 2-2 fastball from Lynch and sending a deep fly ball into left field for his first MLB homer.

Bliss’ two-run blast measured 421 feet and made it 7-0.

The last time Seattle scored seven runs in the first inning of a game was on July 28, 2018, vs. the Angels in Anaheim. They would go on to win the game 8-5.

A seven-run lead before he’d thrown his first pitch was ideal for Seattle starter Bryce Miller, who worked through the first three innings scoreless.

Seattle pushed the lead to 8-0 in the top of the fourth. J.P. Crawford led off with a single and later scored when Ty France bounced a ball over the right-field fence for a double.

But Miller couldn’t quite maintain his command or the comfortable lead.

He gave up four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, three of which came on a homer from M.J. Melendez on a fastball left down the middle.

“I had quite a few bigger misses than I usually do,” Miller said. “I was rolling and they squeezed in a couple of hits and the homer got me.”

Miller came back to work a scoreless fifth inning and went back out for the sixth. He wouldn’t finish the inning or even retire a batter. He allowed a leadoff single to Vinnie Pasquantino and then walked both Salvador Perez and Nelson Velazquez to load the bases.

Servais called on Tayler Saucedo to work out of the jam. He allowed a run to score on a ground out to first. But the Royals would score two more runs when Hunter Renfroe was able to make a lunging swing on a changeup six inches off the plate, turning it into a two-run single up the middle to cut the lead to 9-7. All three runs were charged to Miller.

His final line: five innings pitched, a season-high seven runs allowed on six hits with three walks and only one strikeout.

“At the end of the day, I can’t go out and load the bases with no outs in the sixth,” Miller said. “That should have never been a game in the first place. After we score seven like that, I got to do my part, hold it down and I didn’t do it.”

With Andres Muñoz still not quite ready to return to game action and Austin Voth not available due to usage, Servais tried to piece together the final innings. He got a scoreless seventh inning from Trent Thornton and a scoreless eighth from Collin Snider.

He brought in Stanek in the ninth, starting with the No. 8 spot in the Royals lineup. If he worked a clean inning, he could avoid facing Bobby Witt Jr. in the ninth inning.

That possibility was reduced quickly when Stanek walked Nick Loftin after getting up 1-2 in the count. Garrett Hampson followed with a soft ground ball to third. Josh Rojas charged on the slow roller and tried to make an off-balance throw to first. The ball sailed wide of France for a throwing error as both runners moved up to second and third.

Stanek’s first and only out came on Maikel Garcia’s ground ball to J.P. Crawford, who fired to first base.

It brought Witt to the plate as the winning run. Had there been two outs, Servais might have considered walking the Royals’ best player. But with one out, they had to face him. Stanek jumped ahead with strikes on the first two pitches. Witt fouled off a 99-mph fastball out of the zone. Stanek went for the strikeout or ground ball, firing a splitter.

But the pitch stayed in the middle of the plate and just above the knees. Witt hammered the mistake into the left-field corner. Hampson scored easily to tie the game while Witt displayed his exceptional speed, turning it into a triple.

With the winning run at third, the Mariners intentionally walked Pasquantino and Perez to load the bases. They needed an out at home to keep the game going and a double play to force extra innings. Velazquez hit a hard one-hopper that handcuffed Crawford at shortstop. He wasn’t able to field it cleanly enough to start a double play and prevent the winning run from scoring.

Stanek took the loss and opted not to comment postgame. Miller didn’t feel like his teammate should’ve been in that situation.

“Whenever the offense shows up like that, I need to be in the zone and attack,” Miller said. “I just didn’t do that today. There’s really nobody to blame today other than me. I know Stanek gets the loss, but it’s not on him. It’s on me.”