This was the sort of moment the Mariners, and their fans, envisioned when the season dawned. A raucous packed house on a late September night culminating in a champagne celebration.
Maybe next year.
The Mariners on Thursday played the role of required foil in a 10-4 loss to Kansas City that permitted the Royals to capture their first American League Central crown in 30 years. (They reached the World Series last season as a wild-card entry.)
The crowd of 32,244 reveled in the moment.
Someday, Safeco. Someday.
“You kind of think what it would be like to be doing that,” Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison said. “I think we have the talent in this room to do it. … We get guys healthy and get guys back, we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Not on this night.
The Mariners lost their starting pitcher, James Paxton, in the second inning when he tore the nail on his relentlessly troublesome middle finger. That placed heightened stress on a bullpen not equipped for the task.
“I’m frustrated,” Paxton said. “It’s hard. I want to be out there pitching, and stuff like this keeps on happening. I just have to keep on going and come out the other side. Just deal with it.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon rolled through six relievers after Paxton exited with, let’s just say, mixed success.
“It forced us to use a lot of youngsters in tough situations,” McClendon said. “It didn’t work out. My challenge with most of our young kids … is understanding what pitching down is.
“You pitch up in the zone, you’re going to get hit.”
For all that, it was 3-3 with nobody aboard in the sixth inning when Logan Kensing (1-1) issued a two-out walk to Alex Gordon. The Mariners then summoned veteran left-hander Joe Beimel, who gave up a double to Ben Zobrist.
Lorenzo Cain followed by grounding a two-run single to left.
Kansas City led 5-3.
When Jose Ramirez gave up two more runs in the seventh inning, the countdown grew serious. The Royals needed only to hold that lead, and to have Cleveland to close out a victory at Minnesota, to start the celebration.
The Twins’ loss became final while Kansas City was adding three more runs in the eighth inning against Ramirez. Shortly thereafter, the champagne popped.
Royals starter Johnny Cueto (3-6) appeared vulnerable early but found a groove in pitching through the seventh inning.
After Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless eighth inning, Wade Davis gave up a homer to Logan Morrison before closing out the victory. The Royals began their celebration near the mound as several Mariners remained to watch.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 74-79 with nine games remaining. They trail Houston by six games in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
Paxton lasted just 1 1/3 innings in his third start after missing three-plus months because of a strained tendon. His return was further delayed when a blister and a torn nail on the same finger surfaced in a rehab start.
“My fingernail just ripped up again and started bleeding,” he said. “I think in Tacoma, I probably stayed in a little longer, and it got a little worse than it is right now.
“If I kept pitching, it probably would have lifted up more and started bleeding more. But Lloyd just took a look at it and told me to give him the ball.”
Kansas City led 2-1 when Paxton departed and had runners on first and second. JC Ramirez replaced Paxton and gave up a sharp single to Gordon that loaded the bases before escaping a jam.
The Mariners turned to Mayckol Guaipe after Ramirez issued two one-out walks in the third inning. Guaipe ended the inning with no damage, which permitted the Mariners to take the lead in the fourth.
Kauffman Stadium favorite Robinson Cano led off with a single and went to third on Seth Smith’s double into the left-field corner. Both runners scored when Mark Trumbo pulled a double past third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Guaipe struck out the side in the fourth and started the fifth with another strikeout before McClendon brought in Rob Rasmussen for a left-on-left matchup against Eric Hosmer.
“I was trying to get through those lefties in the middle of that lineup,” McClendon said. “Elevated fastballs … don’t work.”
The game turned when Hosmer lined a 1-1 pitch over the center-field wall for a game-tying homer. The Royals rolled from there.
FRIDAY: Seattle (LHP Vidal Nuno: 1-3, 3.64 ERA) at Los Angeles Angels (RHP Garrett Richards: 14-11, 3.73), 7:05 p.m., Root Sports, 1030-AM, 710-AM