KANSAS CITY — Well, hello there. Who saw this coming?
Brad Miller silenced a sellout crowd Friday night at Kauffman Stadium by leading off the ninth inning with a homer that propelled the Mariners to a 7-5 victory over Kansas City that knocked the Royals out of first place.
Miller turned on a 1-2 slider from usually impregnable Greg Holland and rescued the Mariners from a possible numbing defeat. Miller yanked a drive hard down the right-field line but the stayed just fair.
“I was hoping,” he admitted, “and I might have leaned a little bit (to add some body English). I was just battling. That guy is an All-Star closer. I was able to get the barrel on it somehow.”
The Mariners then added another run against Holland, after loading the bases, on Logan Morrison’s two-out RBI single. Note: Holland, 0-2, entered the game with a 1.30 ERA.
“Big league ballplayers don’t miss mistakes too often,” Holland said. “I got up on (Miller) two strikes and didn’t get the slider where I wanted. I made a mistake. Sometimes you pay for them, and I did tonight.”
An improbable final twist to a game loaded with ebbs and flows.
First, the Mariners built a 5-0 lead against Royals ace James Shields. That seemed like plenty for Hisashi Iwakuma, who had not allowed a run to the Royals over 16 innings in two previous career starts.
Iwakuma then stretched that streak to 20 innings before the trap door opened. The Royals stormed back and pulled even by scoring three times in the fifth before chasing Iwakuma in a two-run sixth.
“I kind of lost my rhythm as the game went on,” he said. “They were very aggressive. They got to certain pitches, and they took advantage. They put up good at-bats, and that’s how it went down.”
The Mariners then dodged a bullet in the eighth after Billy Butler opened the inning with an sharp grounder that caromed off reliever Danny Farquhar for an infield single.
Alex Gordon followed with a soft liner into center for a single that moved Butler to second.
When Salvy Perez flied out to center, Butler tried for third —and made it when the throw by James Jones hit him and bounced away. Gordon moved to second. The omens, suddenly, all seemed to be pointing toward KC.
“We’re running into a buzz-saw,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “These guys are hot, and everything is going pretty good for them right now. All it takes is one mistake, one thing going wrong, and they’re back in the game.”
The Royals had won 10 in a row before a 2-1 loss Thursday at Detroit.
With runners on second and third with one out, McClendon ordered a intentional walk to Lorenzo Cain before calling on Charlie Furbush to face Mike Moustakas in a left-on-left match-up.
“I’m just thinking, `I’ve got to get this guy out,’” Furbush said. “I’d faced him before a couple of times, so I had a game plan with (catcher Mike Zunino) on how I was going to attack him. And it worked out pretty well.”
Moustakas popped out to second before Furbush stranded all three runners by striking out Alcides Escobar.
Then came Miller’s homer, Morrison’s single and — when Fernando Rodney worked a clean ninth for his 19th save — a remarkable victory. Furbish, 1-4, was the winner.
“What a swing by Miller,” Morrison said. “Oh, my goodness. They don’t get much bigger than that. Man, he crushed it, and it stayed straight and true.”
The end didn’t come easily.
Jarrod Dyson opened the Kansas City ninth with an infield single by beating Rodney to first. Rodney then struck out Omar Infante, but Eric Hosmer lined a single to left.
Nori Aoki’s grounder to short resulted in a force at second before Rodney ended the game by striking out Gordon.
The Mariners built a 5-0 lead against Shields behind homers from Zunino and Morrison along with a pair of RBIs from Robinson Cano. It seemed like plenty.
The Royals stormed back with three runs in the fifth on homers by Perez and Moustakas before chasing Iwakuma in a two-run sixth inning. Only an over-the-shoulder catch by Morrison kept the game tied.
The drama then built to Miller’s swing. And beyond to Gordon’s final swinging strike.
“That was one of the best baseball games we’ve all been a part of,” Miller said. “Kuma against James Shields, aces going against each other. We jumped out to a good lead. He settled down.
“They put together some good stuff. They’re one of the hottest teams in baseball right now. I was pumped.”