The Mariners (43-43) dropped back to .500 with their 10th consecutive loss on the road, falling at Kansas City, 4-3.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Back in a silent Mariners clubhouse, two bags of ice wrapped around his left arm, James Paxton didn’t hesitate this time. Given another chance, he would “absolutely” throw to second base.

Of course, the right play in the bottom of the eighth inning was for Paxton to field the ground ball, turn and fire to second to start a potential inning-ending double play. Instead, he fielded the ball cleanly, hesitated and opted for the safe play: an easy throw to first base, which left two Royals runners in scoring position with two outs.

The brief hesitation set the stage for a stunning finish in the Mariners’ 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night and torpedoed one of the best outings of Paxton’s young career.

Friday

Mariners @ Kansas City, 5:15 p.m., ROOT Sports

“That one’s going to eat at me for a little bit,” Paxton said of his indecision on the play. “I felt myself going too quick and I felt like I was going to turn and throw too quick and throw it away, so I wanted to just get the sure out and go after the next guy.”

On the very next pitch, Paxton left a 98?mph fastball up and out over the plate, and Paulo Orlando, the Royals’ No. 9 hitter, sent it sharply into center field for a two-run single.

That cut the Mariners’ lead to 3-2.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez completed the Kansas City comeback in the ninth against Mariners closer Steve Cishek with a walk-off, two-run double to deep center field, setting off a raucous celebration for the crowd of 31,425 at Kauffman Stadium in the opener of this four-game series.

Cishek blew his fifth save opportunity of the season, and the Mariners (43-43) fell back to .500 with their 10th consecutive loss on the road.

“(Perez) got his hands extended and put a pretty good swing on it,” Cishek said. “There’s really nothing more I can say there. He just did a great job executing. It happens.”

The Mariners appeared well on their way to ending their road slide after Nelson Cruz’s 23rd home run of the season gave them a 3-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning.

“I don’t know if you can go from (being) much more in control of the game to being on the wrong side of things in an inning and a half,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Paxton, despite opening the game with three consecutive balls to Royals leadoff hitter Alex Gordon, needed just 35 pitches to get through his first five innings, 46 through six and 57 through seven.

He wound up pitching a season-high eight innings, giving up seven hits, two runs with one walk and two strikeouts on 78 pitches (53 strikes).

Servais said he had no reservations, even after the fact, about leaving Paxton in to pitch the eighth.

“It’s part of a pitcher’s development — can you finish?” Servais said. “A lot of guys can start it. How do you finish it? That really becomes the separator between the premier guys in the league and the guys who just have good stuff. There are certain times you’ve got to let them go. Tonight was absolutely ideal to let that happen, where he was at. He just didn’t quite get it done.”

Before the game, Servais had bemoaned the Mariners’ sluggish defense of late. Seattle entered the game tied with Minnesota with the worst fielding percentage in the American League (.981), and Servais had recently called a team meeting to address it.

The defense behind Paxton was much better Thursday, turning four double plays to support the big left-hander; shortstop Ketel Marte also made a sensational sliding catch to save a run in the third inning.

Outfielder Daniel Robertson, in just his third appearance in a Mariners uniform, provided the offensive boost.

He singled up the middle to score Dae-Ho Lee for the game’s first run in the second inning. In the fifth, Robertson doubled and scored on a Marte sacrifice fly to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

Close encounters
The Mariners (43-43) have lost four straight games overall but only by a combined six runs.
Date Game Score
Monday Loss at Houston 2-1
Tuesday Loss at Houston 5-2
Wednesday Loss at Houston 9-8
Thursday Loss at Kansas City 4-3