The fans at sweltering Kauffman Stadium stood and cheered Saturday as Royals manager Ned Yost made his way from the dugout in what many believed would be a pitching change.
Starter Jason Vargas had performed admirably, a team-high 8 2/3 innings and a pitch count nearing 110. Fans wanted to show their appreciation as he walked off the mound.
But Yost left Vargas in, and the cheers grew louder.
Then glum silence as the next two hitters, Stefen Romero and Dustin Ackley singled and produced the game-winning run in a 2-1 Mariners victory.
“He’d been dominant,” Yost said. “It’s one of those situations where you know going into it, if it works you’re a smart guy. If it doesn’t, you’re the dumbest guy in the stadium.
“It turned out to be the dumbest guy in the stadium.”
But Vargas said staying in the game was a shared call, pitcher and manager.
“He just asked me if I could get him, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Vargas said. “It wasn’t a whole lot more than that.”
Vargas said he felt strong, despite the heat and the pitch count. The ball Romero hit, a soft liner to second baseman Pedro Ciriaco, who was shading up the middle, could have been the third out. Ciriaco, standing on the grass, didn’t come up with the ball cleanly and Romero had an infield single.
“You’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities,” Mariners manager Lloyd McLendon said. “That’s probably uncharacteristic of Ciriaco and that team.”
Ackley, a left-handed hitter, drove a no-doubter over the infield, scoring Kyle Seager, who had gotten thing started with a two-out double.
“(Vargas) threw me one in, and I was able to get the barrel to it,” Ackley said.
It was after the double that Yost made his mound visit, and a third out here might have led to what would have been remembered as one of the team’s best pitching efforts of the season with Vargas beating the heat and giving the Royals a chance to end a minilosing streak,
The streak stands at three, after the season-defining 10-game winning streak, largely because the Royals generated little against Mariners starter Chris Young, a 6-foot-10 right-hander. He isn’t a flame-thrower, but he keeps hitters off-balance.
“We just couldn’t do much against him,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said.
Even less than the previous day when Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma extended his personal streak of consecutive scoreless innings against the Royals to 20.
But the Royals finally got to Iwakuma. It never happened with Young, who pitched seven innings.
The three hits were a season low for the Royals, who had five base runners in the game. Two were erased on double plays, including the game-ender on Eric Hosmer’s broken-bat grounder to second.
Also, Salvador Perez was gunned down trying to stretch a single into a double.
All three hits came in the fifth inning, and Alex Gordon’s leadoff home run, his team-leading ninth, was the Royals’ lone run.
Gordon, who had been battling flulike symptoms the last couple of days, was about the only player to solve Young.
“I got in good counts with him, but he’s very deceptive, pitches to contact and gets a lot of outs like that,” Gordon said.
The home run was the Royals 21st in the last 22 games. It took them 52 games to hit their first 21 home runs.
Saturday, the Royals could have used more of the small ball that they largely relied on early in the season, the kind that produced the Mariners’ first run.
Brad Miller, Friday’s hero with a solo home run off closer Greg Holland, got the Mariners started this time with a perfectly placed bunt to open the third inning.
He moved around the bases and scored on singles by James Jones and Cole Gillespie, but Vargas ended the uprising by coaxing a double-play grounder from Logan Morrison.
The Mariners wouldn’t score again until the ninth, but one more was all that was necessary on a day when Royals bats were chilled.