The combination of sweltering temperatures and Kansas City’s calamitous pitching staff ignited Seattle’s offense again in a 6-1 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium Thursday.
Toss in an efficient performance from Felix Hernandez (8-5, 2.82 ERA) and a power hitting showcase from designated hitter Jesus Montero, and the Mariners captured their first series victory in more than a month.
Leading 5-1 in the eighth, Hernandez worked out of a one-out, bases loaded jam by striking out Alcides Escobar before inducing a weak ground ball from Billy Butler, the No. 3 hitter who Wednesday night belted a walk-off solo homer off Josh Kinney to beat Seattle 8-7.
Hernandez didn’t fold as easily.
“He was strong again today and had a lot of life on the end of his pitches and he was down,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after his ace carved up another American League lineup. “He threw 24 pitches in that eighth inning and that was big too. That game gets real close if one of those guys comes through.”
Kansas City’s late rally was the only legitimate scoring threat the Mariners faced outside of Chris Getz’s fifth-inning RBI single. Hernandez threw just 89 pitches in eight innings. He gave up seven hits and and walked one while striking out three.
Catcher John Jaso said Seattle’s ace made a key adjustment in the first inning that helped him pick up the win.
“They were jumping all over his change-up early in the game and it kind of swayed us away from using it,” he said. “We just pretty much stuck with the fastball. He pitched a great game. We all know that he could have finished it out, but it was a good move by Wedge to keep his ace in the cool air.”
Seattle again pulled ahead early, Jesus Montero rocking a fastball from rookie Will Smith (1-3, 7.97 ERA) over the centerfield fence in the second to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead. His first home run since June 16 sparked a three-run inning. Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak followed with singles. After John Jaso advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, Michael Saunders drove in Seager with a single.
Brendan Ryan lined a sacrifice fly to give the Mariners a three-run advantage.
In the fifth, Montero tacked on to the three-run lead with an RBI single through the left side to score Ichiro. He picked up two more RBIs a with a double in the seventh and a sacrifice fly in the ninth. The three-hit day pushed his batting average to .262. After recording just one RBI in June, the rookie catcher looked the part of a future cleanup hitter in Seattle’s third win of the series.
“He’s been better, especially with two strikes, in staying up the middle,” Wedge said after Montero extended his hitting streak to five games. “I think he is recognizing breaking balls better, and he’s still in a strong position to hit the fastball. When he was struggling he was fouling off a lot of pitches that he knows he needs to hit. I just think he’s in a better position up there, balance-wise.”
Seattle continued its remarkable hitting on the road with 31 runs in the series against the Royals, who this season have seen four pitchers, two starters and two relievers, undergo Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
Winners in four of seven games since the All-Star break, the Mariners head to Tampa Bay for a three with the Rays.