Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon wanted to avoid using Fernando Rodney for a fourth consecutive day Sunday. But after Mike Zunino belted a hanging curve for a 402-foot home run in the seventh to break a 1-1 tie and three relievers kept Kansas City at bay over the next two innings, he had little choice but to tap his closer again.
No problem. Rodney recorded his 21st save and third of the series as the Mariners won 2-1 to complete a sweep of the formerly hot Royals.
It marked Seattle’s first series skunking in Kansas City since May 25-27, 2007, and more than salvaged a road trip that started with two brutal losses to fourth-place, anemic-hitting San Diego at Petco Park. The Mariners (40-36) also notched their 40th victory, a total they didn’t reach last season until July 8.
“We executed well throughout the series,” said McClendon. “We especially executed well defensively. When you face a team as hot as Kansas City (Royals had won 10 of 11 entering the series) you can’t afford to make mistakes, and we didn’t.”
McClendon told Rodney that he probably would not see the mound Sunday, but had to change his mind given the way the game played out.
“He felt good,” McClendon said of his closer. “He’s pitched a lot the last three days, but his work load was very efficient, and he was very efficient today.”
To get to Rodney, the Mariners needed another great effort from starter Roenis Elias, who battled Yordano Ventura on even terms through six innings. Elias allowed a run in the second when the Royals parlayed two singles (Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez) and a sacrifice fly by Justin Maxwell into a 1-0 lead.
That edge lasted until the fifth when Zunino and Willie Bloomquist both doubled (Bloomquist’s second double of the game) to tie.
Elias (7-5, 3.74) departed after 6.2 innings and 92 pitches, but not before Zunino cracked his ninth homer and second of the series. In line for his fourth win against one loss in June, Elias had to sweat through three pitching changes — Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush and Danny Farquhar — before McClendon could summon Rodney.
Medina, Furbush and Farquhar combined to allow two hits with two strikeouts and no walks. When Rodney nailed down his 21st save in 23 opportunities, Elias improved to 7-5, including 4-1 this month.
“Elias has been good and he needed to be good because their guy (Ventura) was really good,” said McClendon, after Elias completed his five-strikeout, two-walk effort. “He really dialed it up a few times” with at least four 100 mph fastballs.
The Mariners, who have won eight of Elias’ past 12 starts, had several opportunities to score, especially in the seventh after Zunino’s home run. Following Zunino’s leadoff blast on a 1-and-2 pitch, Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller followed with singles. But both died where they stood as the Mariners finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said McClendon, “but we got the job done.”
The Royals threatened in the eighth after Omar Infante led off with a single. McClendon imported Furbush, who retired Eric Hosmer on a line out. McClendon then went to Farquhar, who immediately balked Infante to second. But after getting Billy Butler to line out to Bloomquist at second, Farquhar needed only three pitches to strike out Alex Gordon with the tying run at second base.
In the ninth, Rodney got Salvador Perez and Jarrod Dyson on rollers to Kyle Seager at third. After allowing Mike Moustakas a pinch single, he fanned Pedro Ciriaco to end it.
The Mariners improved to 8-12 in one-run decisions . . . Seattle is 23-16 on the road, including 18-8 in its last 26 away from Safeco Field . . . The Mariners won the season series 4-3 . . . During the series, the Mariners received 16 hits from their Nos. 7-9 hitters . . . OF Michael Saunders, placed on the disabled list June 11 with right shoulder inflammation, is eligible to return to the Mariners Thursday, giving him a chance at returning in time for the opening game of the Cleveland series Friday.
NEXT: The Mariners are back at Safeco Field Monday night to begin a six-game home stand against Boston and Cleveland. RHP Felix Hernandez (8-2, 2.22) will throw the opener opposite RHP John Lackey (8-4, 2.96). After three against the Red Sox, the Mariners will take Thursday off before beginning a weekend set with the Indians.