They had scored 25 runs in their last 27 innings, but when the Seattle Mariners got to the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday, they had to face the only All-Star hitter in the park.
The big Royals designated hitter capped a 3-for-3 night by hitting the third pitch he saw from Josh Kinney for his 18th home run – a walk off shot that gave Kansas City an 8-7 victory over Seattle.
“He’s their guy, and we had a plan,” Kinney said. “I missed my spot. It was a 1-1 count and I tried to throw my sinker away. It was the right pitch, it just ran back over the plate. If he fouls it back, the count is 1-2, but it was in the strike zone and he did what he’s supposed to do.”
He killed it.
That the game came down to the final pitch was a surprise, given the Royals had leads of 3-1, 5-3 and 7-4.
“We’ve had a pretty good approach at the plate since the All-Star break,” said Casper Wells, who homered and had three hits. “It’s nice to know you can come back.
“It was a close game. We’ll come back and get them (today) when it’s 105 degrees.”
It was ‘only’ 103 when this one started and veteran Kevin Millwood had a quick 1-2-3 first inning - but never retired the Royals in order again.
Given a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a Kyle Seager home run, Millwood couldn’t hold. A two-run home run from Lorenzo Cain highlighted a three-run Royals rally in the bottom half of the same inning.
By the third inning, he and rookie catcher Jesus Montero were having communication issues, and Montero trotted to the mound four times to discuss what pitch Millwood wanted.
“I was just tryingto get the fans to boo,” Millwood said, and boo they did. “He came out once and I told him what I wanted to throw and then I changed my mind and he had to come out again."
Millwood allowed 10 hits in five innings, including that one home run.
“They manufactured a run in the third inning with a bunt and a ground ball, and some balls fell in the outfield that were up there a long time,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Kevin might have been up a little, but he was on the south side of luck tonight, too.”
When Millwood left, Seattle trailed, 7-3.
Against the odds, relievers Steve Delabar and Oliver Perez got the game to the ninth without allowing another Royals run.
The Mariners, meanwhile, pecked away.
Wells, who’d homered in the fourth inning, singled in the sixth and worked his way around to score on Miguel Olivo’s single – diving around a tag at the plate and getting a hand in to score.
“(Jeff) Datz had the stop sign up at third but I didn’t see it until it was too late,” Wells said. “If the throw is perfect, they get me. I just slid as far away from the catcher as I could.”
The Mariners left the bases loaded that inning, when Brendan Ryan flied deep to center field.
Ichiro and Wells singled with one out in the seventh inning, and catcher Montero’s single scored them both to make it a 7-6 game. With two outs – naturally – Seager doubled to chase Montero in and tie the game.
Seager now has 58 RBI this season, including 33 with two outs. No one in major league baseball has more.
One out into the eighth inning, Ryan drove a ball into right center field and, defying the odds a second night in a row, tried to make a triple out of it. On Tuesday, he was out at third. This time? Safe.
With the Royals infield in, Dustin Ackley grounded to second base, and Ryan took off.
“We were running on contact there. We were being aggressive, and I’m always in favor of that,” Ryan said.
Ryan and the throw arrived at the same time, but Ryan’s slide beat catcher Brayan Pena’s tag – only to have plate umpire Jim Joyce signal ‘out’.
Wedge flew out of the dugout to argue.
“He said Ryan’s foot never touched the plate,” Wedge said.
Replays proved Joyce right. Ryan’s foot got to the plate first, but never touched it as he slid right over it. That was Seattle’s last point-blank scoring opportunity, and Wedge went to Kinney in the bottom of the ninth. Why Kinney?
“We were a little short down in the ‘pen,” Wedge said. “We couldn’t use Brandon League or Lucas Luetge, and we were saving Tom Wilhelmsen for a save if we got the lead. Kinney was the guy to face their right-handed hitters …”
Until the third pitch. Then Butler was the guy, and Seattle’s two-game winning streak ended.