The first run was manufactured, the result of Whit Merrifield’s leadoff double and his aggression on the basepaths thereafter.
Kansas City’s next two runs required less creativity. Third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a long, solo home run to right field in the second inning. Left fielder Alex Gordon -- despite breaking his bat upon contact -- hit one over the right-field fence in the fifth.
That was all they needed to beat the Seattle Mariners, 3-1, before a crowd of 35,789 (it was fireworks night, after all) on a warm-enough Monday night at Safeco Field, spoiling a more-than-good-enough start by 23-year-old rookie Andrew Moore, who, in spite of his first big-league loss, lasted eight innings and allowed only five hits.
Royals starter Ian Kennedy, though, was a little more effective, holding the Mariners to a single run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings to earn the victory.
“Very well-pitched game tonight, on both sides,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Coming into the ballgame, we knew Kennedy was throwing the ball very well. He certainly executed his gameplan against us tonight.”
The Mariners scored their only run in the second inning, when a bases-loaded wild pitch by Kennedy allowed Kyle Seager to score from third base. But Kennedy avoided further damage by striking out Mike Zunino and Boog Powell to end the inning.
In fact, Kennedy avoided further damage for the rest of his time on the mound, keeping the Mariners off-balance with a sharp curveball that helped him rack up seven strikeouts. After they loaded the bases in the second, the Mariners didn’t advance a runner to second base until the seventh, when another wild pitch allowed first baseman Danny Valencia -- he had three of his team’s four hits – to move from first to second with one out.
One batter later, Kennedy gave way to right-handed reliever Peter Moylan, summoned from the bullpen to face pinch-hitting Nelson Cruz. Moylan struck Cruz out on three pitches, and Valencia was stranded at second base.
“When you look at what he does,” Servais said of Kennedy, “he pitches up in the zone a lot. He’s got kind of a riding fastball, and even though it’s not 96, 97, it plays up, because it is at the top of the strike zone. Tough pitch to hit, tough pitch to lay off of. The combination of that with the breaking ball down below and him locating the way he was, he pitched a good ballgame.”
Moylan, Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria combined to retire the Mariners in order in the eighth and ninth innings.
Merrifield, Kansas City’s speedy right fielder, helped the Royals take an early lead. He led off the game with a double, moved to third base on a flyout to shallow center field, then scored on Lorenzo Cain’s sacrifice fly to right field when Mitch Haniger’s throw to the plate flew over the head of Mariners catcher Mike Zunino (Merrifield would have beaten it, anyway).
Moustakas’ blast, his 23rd of the season, came on a 1-1 fastball leading off the second inning. Gordon’s homer, his fifth, was a rare, broken-bat job that barely cleared the wall – and Haniger’s leaping attempt at robbery – in right field.
“I heard it,” Moore said of the broken bat, “and I honestly started walking off a little bit, then looked up and saw it carrying a little bit, so I thought it had a chance. It wasn’t a great pitch, but he got just enough of it.”
Other than that, Moore was fantastic. He retired 21 of the final 23 batters he faced, struck out four and didn’t walk anybody. Despite the loss, he became only the third pitcher in franchise history to last seven or more innings in each of his first two Major League starts, joining Erik Hanson (September 1988) and Enrique Romo (1977).
And he did it without feeling his best. The adjustments he made, Servais said – such as relying more on his secondary pitches earlier in counts – bode well for his future as a big-league starter.
“My arm was just kind of dragging behind my body, just getting a little too quick,” Moore said, “so making that tiny little timing adjustment was able to give me that little bit of extra finish on the pitches I was able to get at the end.”
Said Servais: “He’s been very impressive. He’s going to win a lot of games as a Mariner. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen tonight.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: With Cruz at the plate representing the tying run, Moylan threw three strikes past him to end the seventh inning and maintain Kansas City’s 3-1 lead.
PLUS: Moore has been as good in his first two starts as anyone could have reasonably expected, pitching 15 innings and allowing six runs. … Valencia went 3-for-4. Zunino was the only other Mariner to get a hit. … Cruz wasn’t in the lineup due to a sore right knee, but was feeling good enough to pinch hit in the seventh. That bodes well for his chances of returning to the lineup on Tuesday.
MINUS: The Mariners moved only one runner into scoring position in the final seven innings, and left two runners stranded in scoring position in the second inning. … Seattle’s 3-4-5 hitters combined to go 0-for-11 with three strikeouts.
STAT PACK: Moore has faced 55 batters to start his career without walking anyone. That is the longest such streak to begin a career in franchise history. … Valencia’s three-hit game was his seventh this season, which ranks third on the team behind Jean Segura and Ben Gamel.
QUOTABLE: “Sometimes when Plan A isn’t working, you’ve got to shift and go to Plan B, and he did. Got more of the secondary pitches, got curveball, slider working. He’s got a very good changeup and went to that as well to keep them off the fastball a little bit more.” – Servais on Moore’s in-game adjustments