It started well Monday for the Seattle Mariners. They had Felix Hernandez on the mound, and they grabbed a quick lead on a first-inning homer by Robinson Cano.
Kansas City nicked Hernandez for four runs over 62/3 innings while the Mariners’ attack flatlined against journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and the Royals’ suffocating bullpen in a 4-1 loss at Safeco Field.
Blanton (2-0) retired 16 in a row after Cano’s two-out homer in the first inning before exiting after Austin Jackson’s leadoff double in the seventh.
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By then, the Royals had a three-run lead against Hernandez (10-4) and were positioned to call on their three-headed relief hydra of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
The Mariners never got another hit.
“One thing I can say,” Cano observed, “is we play better when we face an ace. Why is that? I don’t know. Maybe we’re focused a little more. Maybe not. I don’t know. I wish I could find out what it is.”
The Mariners have beaten Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel over the past two weeks but are just 7-7 in that span and are back to seven games under .500 at 32-39.
Blanton struck out seven and walked none in six-plus innings.
“Anytime you can go six innings and not pitch out of the stretch,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said, “odds are you had a pretty good game.”
But Yost went to the bullpen as soon as Jackson ended Blanton’s streak.
“I’ve got the best bullpen in baseball,” Yost said. “The first guy that got on, I was going to turn it over to the big boys.”
Herrera stranded an inherited runner at third with no outs in the seventh. Davis had two strikeouts in a one-two-three eighth that lowered his ERA to 0.29. And Holland worked a scoreless ninth for his 14th save in 15 chances.
The Mariners also pulled right fielder Nelson Cruz in the seventh inning because of tightness in his right hamstring — although initial indications suggest the injury isn’t serious.
“What they’re telling me,” manager Lloyd McClendon reported, “is it’s going to be very short-term.”
The Royals didn’t batter Hernandez, but they bunched their nine hits in telling fashion, including two RBI singles with two outs in the second inning, and by sandwiching a pair of two-out singles around a stolen base in the seventh.
“They found holes,” Hernandez said, “but I didn’t have my best stuff today. … They just put the bat on the ball. I’d make good pitches, and they’d get good base hits. Sometimes, it happens.”
Yes, the Mariners struck first when Cano crushed a 2-0 fastball for a 424-foot homer to center field with two outs in the first inning. That ended a drought of 84 plate appearances since his last homer on May 30.
The lead didn’t last.
Salvy Perez started a two-run Kansas City second inning by pulling a 3-2 sinker from Hernandez just fair into left for a one-out double.
Left fielder Seth Smith then ran down Alex Gordon’s drive into the left-center gap, but Alex Rios tied the game with a two-out RBI grounder up the middle.
Jackson opted for a low-percentage throw to the plate — and he compounded the decision by overthrowing the cutoff man.
“He was trying to come up and hit the cutoff man,” McClendon said. “It got away from him. But in my opinion, he should have just thrown the ball to second.”
As it was, Perez scored, and Rios easily took second, which turned into another run when Omar Infante punched an RBI single to left. Infante had been hitless in 11 previous career at-bats against Hernandez.
The Mariners tried to answer later in the inning, but fly balls by Mark Trumbo and Smith each died at the wall. That pretty much summed up the night.
Kansas City stretched its lead to 3-1 in the third inning after Alcides Escobar led off with a ground single up the middle. Mike Moustakas followed with an RBI double off the right-field wall.
The Royals added another run in the seventh and knocked out Hernandez, who retired the first two hitters in the inning before Jarrod Dyson grounded a single to right and stole second.
Escobar followed with a slow roller up the middle for an RBI single and a 4-1 lead.
“I think Felix pitched great tonight," Cano said. “They didn’t hit a lot of hard balls. It was a lot of ground balls and a couple of bloopers. That’s the game.”
That, and just two hits by the Mariners.