Royals come up short in 7-6 loss to Mariners

This wasn’t exactly a giveaway. It’s not like the Royals should have won Tuesday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium.

No, not should have. But could have? Oh, yeah.

The Royals can point to a cluster of defensive shortcomings in their 7-6 loss. Some missed offensive opportunities, too.

They held leads of 3-1 after two innings and 5-4 after five. They pulled even at 6-6 in the sixth on Yuniesky Betancourt’s one-out RBI double but couldn’t get him home to gain the lead for a third time.

Seattle simply out-punched the Royals in the end with a 14-11 advantage in hits. And while the Mariners stranded 12 runners -- three more than the Royals -- they also cashed a few gifts at pivotal times.

And in contrast to the Royals’ defensive mishaps, the Mariners got a Gold Glove-quality play from an eight-time winner when they needed it most.

The Royals loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning before right fielder Ichiro Suzuki ended the game by running down John Buck’s two-out foul pop near the rolled-up tarp along the wall.

“I’m guessing probably the entire stadium didn’t have a good view of that play,” Suzuki said. “I did catch the ball. But even if I didn’t, I probably could have scooped the ball up and put it in my glove and say, `Hey, I caught it,” and probably nobody would have known about it.”

It was a fitting end for the Royals in a frustrating night of almosts.

“Couple plays,” said Royals bench coach John Gibbons, who again served as manager while Trey Hillman attends to a family emergency in Texas.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. At this level, that’s going to kill you.”

Seattle broke a 6-6 tie in the seventh inning by capitalizing on a series of defensive breakdowns -- starting with a throwing error by third baseman Alex Gordon after he bare-handed Jack Wilson’s leadoff hopper off the glove of pitcher Jamey Wright.

“Those things happen,” Gibbons said, “but we’ve got to eliminate those if we’re going to get better.”

Wilson reached second without a throw when first baseman Billy Butler fumbled the ball on the pickup. That bobble probably didn’t matter; Wilson probably beats the throw even if Butler makes a clean pickup.

Michael Saunders’ try for a sacrifice bunt turned into a single when Ron Mahay, who had replaced Wright, threw late to first. Wilson reached third with no outs.

Mahay struck out Suzuki for the first out, but Russell Branyan beat an overshifted infield with a ground single through the second baseman’s usual spot. The Mariners led 7-6, and the Royals summoned Robinson Tejeda to replace Mahay.

Tejeda kept the deficit at one run by retiring the next two hitters. Tejeda also blanked the Mariners in the eighth and ninth innings, but the Royals couldn’t produce the tying run.

Shawn Kelley, 3-1, got the victory when Aardsma survived the ninth for his 26th save in 28 opportunities. Wright, 1-4, was the loser.

The loss was the sixth in seven games for the Royals, who dropped to 41-65. They now must go 22-34 or better in their remaining 56 games to avoid a fifth 100-loss season in eight years.

Royals starter Luke Hochevar labored through 112 pitches in five innings. He opened the game by allowing a homer to Suzuki and spit back a 3-1 lead by surrendering three runs in the third inning.

“Five innings,” Hochevar said. “You definitely need to go deeper in a game than that. Four runs. There were plenty of situations where I could’ve stopped the damage.”

Even so, Hochevar handed a 5-4 lead to John Bale to start the sixth inning.

Bale coughed it up in a hurry.

Saunders dragged a leadoff bunt for a single and went to second on a walk to Suzuki. The Mariners pulled even when Branyan pulled a double past a diving Butler along the first-base line.

Suzuki stopped at third.

Gibbons summoned Wright, who induced a comebacker from José Lopez -- although Wright nearly bounced the throw to first after holding the runners.

An intentional walk to Ken Griffey loaded the bases.

Wright struck out Adrian Beltre before Franklin Gutierrez’s grounder to deep third turned into an RBI single when Butler lost the ball on a swipe tag after snagging Gordon’s off-line throw. An accurate throw ends the inning with the score tied.

Instead, the Mariners led 6-5.

The Royals pulled even in their sixth on Betancourt’s RBI double. Betancourt also had an RBI triple in the fourth against his former club and scored what was then the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to second.

Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith lasted just four innings before manager Don Wakamatsu went to the bullpen. Rowland-Smith allowed five runs and six hits but escaped with a no-decision.

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