KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Mariners had just squandered another opportunity on the basepaths, and seen their lead against the Royals disappear, when Julio Rodriguez stepped to the plate with two runners aboard in the eighth inning Thursday.
George Kirby knew something special was about to happen.
The Mariners’ starting pitcher, whose day on the mound had long been done, proceeded to watch the 22-year-old All-Star rip the first pitch he saw from Kansas City reliever Carlos Hernandez over the left-field bullpen. The homer gave Rodriguez a career-best five hits to go with five RBIs and, more importantly, lifted the streaking Mariners to a 6-4 series-ending win that left them a half-game back of Toronto for the third AL wild card.
“Thank God for Julio,” Kirby said with a smirk, before adding: “I’d have hated to be the opposing pitcher this week.”
Rodriguez had 12 hits in the four-game set, setting a franchise record for any series, and joined some elite company in several ways: He’s the fourth Mariners player with at least four hits in back-to-back games, the fifth player in club history with a five-hit, five-RBI game, and the first Seattle player with at least 20 homers in each of his first two seasons.
Oh, and to go with all those homers, Rodriguez already has 30 stolen bases this season. That puts him alongside Alex Rodriguez, Mike Cameron and Ruppert Jones as the only Mariners players in the 20-30 club.
“That’s absolutely as good as you can do in this league,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I don’t care who you’re facing.”
Cal Raleigh homered for the second straight game in the ninth inning to give Seattle’s bullpen some breathing room, though it hardly needed it. Isaiah Campbell (3-0) earned the win with a scoreless seventh, Trent Thornton tossed a perfect eighth and Matt Brash breezed through the ninth to pick up his fourth save.
Carlos Hernandez (1-8) took the loss when Rodriguez pounded the first pitch he threw to left field.
“That’s a great hitter,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “Put a pretty good swing on a good fastball.”
Nelson Velazquez homered for the fourth time in seven games since his arrival in a trade to Kansas City. MJ Melendez, Michael Massey and Freddy Fermin also drove in runs for the Royals during a fitting finish to a wacky series.
Each team had a player thrown out at the plate Thursday. Another was cut down on the basepaths, one was picked off first base and Seattle had a runner called out after inexplicably starting back to the dugout when an outfielder dropped his fly ball.
Velazquez’s homer in the fourth tied the game 1-all, but the Mariners pulled back ahead as the chaos began in the sixth.
Royals reliever Max Castillo walked the first two batters and Rodriguez followed by scorching a liner to left. The ball cleared Melendez, who had misjudged its angle of approach, and wound up at the outfield wall. Cade Marlow scored easily but Dominic Canzone, who had entered as a pinch hitter, was thrown out trying to score from first.
It wasn’t the last baserunning mistake.
Maikel Garcia was thrown out at the plate on Witt’s double in the bottom of the inning, though the Royals’ offense kept rolling. Massey tied the game with a single, Melendez atoned for his mistake with a go-ahead double and Fermin added a sacrifice fly — with the inning coming to a close when Melendez was thrown out at third base.
The biggest baserunning blunder came in the seventh, though.
Dylan Moore hit a flyball that Melendez raced in and laid out to catch. Moore thought he got it cleanly and, after touching first base, turned around and headed for the Seattle dugout. But the ball actually had bounced out of Melendez’s glove, and he threw to first base, where the umpires ruled that Moore had given himself up.
“We screwed up. I’ll be honest with you,” Servais said. “We need to tighten that up. There’s no doubt about it.”
Fortunately for the Mariners, Rodriguez was there to rescue them one more time with his no-doubt shot the very next inning.
“Today was about Julio,” Servais said. “We’re all real heavy on his back right now.”
Mariners: RHP Eduard Bazardo was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma and RHP Ryder Ryan was optioned to the same club. Bazardo was acquired from the Orioles on Aug. 1 for minor leaguer Logan Rinehart.
Royals: Kowar was recalled from Triple-A Omaha for the fourth time and RHP James McArthur optioned to the same club.
Mariners: RHP Bryan Woo (forearm inflammation) threw a bullpen session before the game. Servais said if all goes well, Woo would be activated around the time he is eligible to come off the injury list on Aug. 20.
Royals: 1B Nick Pratto (left groin strain) planned to begin a rehab assignment with Omaha on Thursday night. … LHP Jake Brentz (elbow surgery) got two outs in his rehab assignment at the Arizona Complex League on Wednesday night. It was the first time Brentz had pitched since April 29, 2022.
Mariners RHP Bryce Miller (7-4, 4.04 ERA) starts the opener of a three-game series in Houston on Friday night.
The Royals begin a nine-game trip against the Cubs with LHP Cole Ragans (3-4, 4.21) starting Friday night’s series opener.