The Royals are chasing first place again.
Brad Miller rocked one of baseball’s best relievers, Greg Holland, with a solo home run in the top of the ninth, to lead the Mariners to a 7-5 victory on Friday.
The outcome, coupled with the Tigers’ victory, dropped the Royals out of first, a position they had grabbed after a 10-game winning streak and held for two days.
Holland entered a tied game, so it wasn’t a blown save. But he had been nearly perfect this season, compiling 15 2/3 scoreless innings over his last 16 appearances. That stretch ended with a thud.
“I didn’t get the slider where I wanted it, and I made a mistake,” Holland said. “Sometimes you pay for them, and I did today.”
The Royals put two runners on in the ninth but the game ended on an Alex Gordon strikeout.
The better scoring chance came an inning earlier, in what was shaping up as a charmed eighth. Slow-footed Billy Butler legged out an infield single that caromed off the pitcher’s leg, and Gordon followed with a single.
Salvador Perez lofted a fly to medium-deep center and Butler made up his mind to tag up. He tested James Jones’ arm and won. Could the Royals get pinch-runner Pedro Ciraco home?
Mike Moustakas got the first crack, and he sent second baseman Robinson Cano to the grass with a popup. Alcides Escobar struck out to end the inning.
Miller then led off the ninth, and crushed one that stayed just inside the foul pole.
“I got to see something up and was able to get it and turn on it, and luckily keep it fair,” Miller said.
After the home run, Holland surrendered a single, two walks and a run-scoring single, and that burned him as much as the homer.
“You’ve got to leave it at one,” Holland said. “It happens. You make one bad pitch and you get beat. But we have a chance to win the game in the bottom half. But after that, two hits and two walks that’s the part that’s really inexcusable.”
The Royals’ party was spoiled. Although manager Ned Yost downplayed first place before the game — “We haven’t played half the season yet” — fans were in a festive mood. Friday felt big and important, and not just because of the annual visit from the celebrities like Jason Sudeikis, Rob Riggle and Eric Stonestreet for the Celebrity Classic Game at the Little K.
“We were running into a buzz saw,” Mariners manager Lloyd McLendon said.
Royals announced their first non-Opening Day sellout about 2 1/2 hours before first pitch and even discouraged fans without tickets not to drive to Kauffman. The announced crowd of 38,475 saw the Royals rally tie the game in the middle innings.
At the time, that seemed improbable given what the Royals were facing.
Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma had controlled the Royals in his previous two career starts against them, including one earlier this year. In the those games, he had pitched 16 shutout innings. No Royals runner had advanced past second base. Right-handed batters on the current roster entered the game zero for 22 against the former star from Japan.
And for four innings, he looked just as unhittable. Iwakuma struck out the side in the first and gave up just three hits until the fifth.
He had what seemed an ample 5-0 lead, built on two RBI hits from Robinson Cano and home runs from Mike Zunino and Logan Morrison.
But with a two-run sixth, the Royals were all the way back.
Butler and Gordon led off with singles, and Perez brought Butler home with a slicing single to right.
Lorenzo Cain got Gordon home with a slow roller to short for a fielder’s choice.
Only a great defensive play by Morrison, a Kansas City native, prevented the Royals from taking the lead. Escobar’s bloop looked like it could find the turf, which would have scored Cain from second. But Morrison, with his back to home plate, caught the ball over his shoulder in a slide.
The Royals first came alive in the fifth, and the source, once again, was power.
Big swings from Perez and Moustakas got the Royals closer, with Perez’s one-out solo shot ending Iwakuma’s shutout bid.
Cain followed by dropping a double to right field, and Moustakas, like Perez, blasted his eighth home run of the season, a moon shot to right.
The inning’s promise continued with Escobar punched a single, but two ground-outs kept the Mariners’ lead at 5-3.
The home runs pushed the Royals’ recent total to 20 in the last 21 games, after hitting 21 dingers in their first 52 games.
But on this night, in front of a full house, it wasn’t enough because the Mariners got the last blast.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.