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Seattle Mariners

Mariners falter after J.P. Crawford’s leadoff homer, fall to Royals

The Kansas City Royals' Vinnie Pasquantino (9) celebrates his two-run double in the fifth inning as Seattle Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford (3) looks on at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday, June 8, 2024, in Kansas City, Missouri.   (Tribune News Service)
Ryan Divish Seattle Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When J.P. Crawford ambushed the very first pitch of the game from Kansas City starter Alec Marsh, turning it into the 11th leadoff homer of his career, the possibility of a second straight game of above-average run production seemed somewhat real for the Mariners.

Would it be another game filled with plenty of baserunners, hard hit balls and runs scored?

Yes, for the Royals.

KC roughed up Seattle starter Luis Castillo and continued to add on against the Mariners bullpen, turning a one-run game in the fifth inning into a relatively easy 8-4 victory, Saturday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.

“We have had a hard time slowing down the Royals,” manager Scott Servais said. “Their offense has had a lot of success against our pitching, which is new for us. We usually control the strike zone and get after it, but it’s been a struggle here.”

Indeed, Seattle pitchers have allowed 18 runs on 19 hits with 11 walks and 11 strikeouts over the first two games of the series. The Royals improved to 24-10 at home. They are averaging 5.7 runs in KC with a .276/.338/.456 slash line and a 17% strikeout rate. They put the ball in play. They can run. They are aggressive in every aspect.

“It’s the Royals way,” said Mitch Garver. “It’s the way they’ve been doing it for the past decade. It’s a really tough, tough team to play against. And then obviously, you pair that with their pitching and the back end of the bullpen is really solid too.”

For the first time in 11 starts, Castillo allowed more than two runs in an outing. He pitched five innings, allowing five runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts to take the loss.

“For Luis, early in the game, nothing was easy,” Servais said. “They were making him work through at-bats.”

The Royals immediately erased the Mariners 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the first. Maikel Garcia led off with a single and later scored on Salvador Perez’s run-scoring single. KC took the lead in the second inning when Adam Frazier, Castillo’s former teammate in Seattle, hammered a solo homer to right field for a 2-1 lead.

While Castillo was battling to get outs, Marsh regrouped quickly after Crawford’s homer and retired the next 13 hitters in order.

Using three different breaking balls, he would set a career high in strikeouts with eight — all coming in the first four innings.

“He was locating with all of his stuff,” Garver said. “He threw the ball well and we put ourselves in poor counts, and he was able to strike out eight real quick.”

The Mariners didn’t get another hit or a baserunner until one out in the fifth when Garver hit a towering fly ball to left field that stayed just inside the foul pole for a solo homer. It tied the game at 2. Seattle grabbed a brief 3-2 lead in the inning with two outs. Dominic Canzone singled, Ryan Bliss worked a walk and Crawford bounced a single up the middle to drive in a run.

But Castillo couldn’t come back with a shutdown inning. He gave up a leadoff double to Frazier on a poorly executed changeup and a run-scoring single to Nick Loftin that tied the game. Later with two outs in the inning, Vinnie Pasquantino took advantage of an elevated changeup, pulling a groundball past Luke Raley at first base for a two-run double and a 5-2 lead.

“They are such a good team and I know they like swing a lot,” Castillo said through interpreter Freddy Llanos. “That’s why we worked on attacking the batters and trying to work on first-pitch strikes, but I think there were two pitches that I left them there and I think those two pitches are the ones that cost us the game.”

Down 5-3, the Mariners cut the lead back to one run in the sixth. Julio Rodriguez singled to left and later scored on Dylan Moore’s sac fly.

But the Mariners’ bullpen couldn’t keep the deficit to one run. The Royals took advantage of a pair of walks from reliever Kirby Snead as light-hitting left-handed hitter Kyle Isbel was able to hit a two-out linedrive to left field for a double that scored two runs.

“Those two-out, two-run doubles were huge for them and they really helped spread the gap,” Servais said.

The Royals tacked on another run off Trent Thornton in the eighth inning.

Seattle will try to avoid being swept with right-hander George Kirby getting the start on Sunday afternoon. The Royals will go with lefty Cole Ragans.

“We will run another really good pitcher out there again tomorrow,” Servais said. “After last night’s game was a little crazy, our guys showed up today ready to compete. It was just not enough.”