The Mariners have bounced back time and again during their surprisingly successful season, and they did it again Friday night in Kansas City, thanks to outfielder Jarred Kelenic, starter Chris Flexen and relievers Joe Smith and Paul Sewald.
Kelenic hit two-run homers in the second and fourth innings, Flexen pitched 5 2/3 strong innings, and Smith and Sewald thwarted rallies to propel the Mariners to a 6-2 victory.
With the win, Seattle remained 3.5 games behind the New York Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot.
The Mariners began a 10-game road trip after a 2-4 homestand that concluded with two tough losses to the Boston Red Sox. But it became clear quickly that there was no residual effect from those losses.
“It was nice to get back in the win column after a couple of tough losses at home,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Obviously, it was the Jarred Kelenic show early.”
Indeed it was.
Kelenic hit home runs in his first two at-bats, the first two-homer game of his career. The 22-year-old became the youngest Mariner to hit multiple homers in a game since 1996, when Alex Rodriguez did it at 20.
Kelenic worked a 3-1 count in the top of the second and roped a changeup from Jon Heasley, making his major-league debut, over the right-field wall for a two-run homer to give Seattle a 2-0 lead.
Kelenic got ahead 3-0 in the count in the fourth inning, just as he had in the second inning. Heasley was able to get it to 3-2, but Kelenic hit the seventh pitch of the at-bat 435 feet and the ball easily cleared the wall in center field.
Flexen, meanwhile was cruising until the sixth inning, when he was hurt by a misplay in the field.
With two outs and a runner on second, Salvador Perez hit a pop-up to shallow right that could have been caught by first baseman Ty France or right fielder Mitch Haniger. But they miscommunicated, and it fell between them, just foul.
Perez ended up walking, Andrew Benintendi hit a bloop single to left field to bring in a run, and Carlos Santana walked. Thirteen pitches after Flexen should have been out of the inning, he was out of the game, leaving the bases loaded.
Servais brought in Smith to get his team out of the mess, and he delivered, striking out Michael Taylor looking to end the inning.
Flexen, who got the win and went to 12-6 on the year, gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings on six hits and two walks. He struck out three.
“Flex got us off to a good start,” Servais said. “I thought he threw the ball really well. He really should have got through six innings, but the failure of us to catch the pop-up led to a prolonged inning.”
After Smith got the big out to end the sixth inning, Kansas City gave Seattle a gift run in the seventh inning. J.P. Crawford appeared to hit into an inning-ending double play, but Royals first baseman Hunter Dozier pulled his foot off the bag, allowing a run to score.
Still, the Royals weren’t done. They opened the bottom of the seventh against Drew Steckenrider with a homer from Dozier. Kyle Isbel followed with a single, and Steckenrider hit Hanser Alberto with a pitch.
After two hard-hit outs, Servais brought in Paul Sewald to face Perez, who has 45 home runs, and homered in the previous four games against the Mariners this season. Perez hit the ball hard, but right at Kelenic in center field, keeping the score at 5-2.
“We got some huge efforts (in relief),” Servais said. “Joe Smith, getting that punch out in the sixth, and Sewald, kind of bailing out Steck in the seventh, and it was enough to get it done.”
The Mariners added a run in the eighth when Luis Torrens hit a two-out single to score Kyle Seager, then survived a final threat. A one-out single and double put runners on second and third, but Diego Castillo got out of the jam, getting Perez to ground out for the final out.
But the key to the win happened earlier when Kelenic staked his team to a four-run lead.
“I can’t say enough about the night that Kelenic had,” Servais said. “That ball he hit to center field, that’s a long way in this ballpark.”
Kelenic, the touted rookie who returned to Class AAA Tacoma after a prolonged slump earlier this season, is hitting .255 in September with five home runs, raising his batting average to .171.
“I knew if I stayed true to myself and continued to grind and continued to learn and ask questions, that it would slowly start to get better,” Kelenic said. “Obviously, I haven’t got it 100% figured out yet, but you can see that I am trending in the right direction, and that’s a bonus.”