KANSAS CITY, Mo.--If you believe in momentum--if you think teams take things forward from wins or losses--then the Seattle Mariners' three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals over the weekend could serve as a launching point.
The Mariners showed up to town carrying a cold offense to face baseball's hottest team. And they dispatched the Royals with an efficient, if not always visually appetizing, formula: keep it close until the final innings, then strike with the drama at its peak.
That's exactly what the Mariners did Sunday in a 2-1 win against the Royals to complete their first three-game sweep since beating Oakland the first week of May. Catcher Mike Zunino ripped a solo home run to start the seventh inning off hard-throwing Royals rookie Yordano Ventura. That broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Mariners the timely hit they had banked on all series.
The only difference between this one and the previous two was that it didn't come in the ninth inning.
"One thing I told our guys: Look, when you know you're facing good pitchers, just battle," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Give it a good at-bat and make every pitch count, and in the end I promise you something good will happen. That's what we did. It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done."
Roenis Elias guided the Mariners to that point with his second straight impressive start. Elias, the Cuban rookie, had all his pitches working in the Kansas City heat. "The sun here is the same as the sun in Cuba," Elias explained.
He faced his only adversity in the second inning. He gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning, then allowed a run to score on a sacrifice fly. But he stranded two runners on base and, for the most part, cruised after that.
He lasted 62/3 innings and gave up five hits while striking out five.
"He was able to throw all of his off-speed pitches--ahead and behind in the count--which kept them off balance," Zunino said.
Zunino also played a large hand in the Mariners' first run. He led off the fifth inning with a double and Willie Bloomquist drove him in with one of his two doubles on the day.
The Mariners had opportunities to add more. They couldn't drive in Bloomquist from second in the third inning and also didn't do that in the fifth. In the seventh, they stranded two more runners with one out as Endy Chavez and James Jones couldn't drive them in.
But they made up for it with their defense, which was good all series. Third baseman Kyle Seager had the highlight play of the day when he charged and barehanded a slow roller before firing to get the runner.
"That's a tough play," McClendon said. "That's an unbelievable play. But he's as good as anybody with that play. We've seen it time and time again."
The Mariners also benefited from a reversed call in the seventh inning. After Justin Maxwell singled with one out, Pedro Ciriaco bunted and was initially called safe. But after a lengthy review, Ciriaco the call was overturned, and the Mariners got out of the inning unharmed.
"We have problems if he's not out there," McClendon said.
That's pretty much how the whole series went for the Mariners.
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