KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ The decision was thus: Let starting pitcher Jason Hammel continue on in the seventh inning after six strong innings on Friday night. Or turn the game to the bullpen with a one-run lead over the Seattle Mariners.

Royals manager Ned Yost would allow Hammel to face three hitters before emerging from the dugout. Two of them collected hits before reliever Ryan Buchter was burned by soft singles from Jarrod Dyson and Leonys Martin.

In a 5-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium, the seventh-inning sequence was the difference. Hammel could not finish. The bullpen could not rescue him. The formula doomed a Royals club contained by Mariners ace James Paxton and the back end of the Seattle bullpen.

In some ways, the loss followed a season-long trend. In 21 starts, Hammel had tired as the game progressed, allowing opponents to bat .350 (21 for 60) in the sixth inning and .320 (8 for 25) in the seventh. Yet Yost opted to ride with a veteran right-hander who has transformed into a reliable performer over the last two months.

As the seven inning began, Hammel induced a fly ball to Danny Valencia. In the moment, his pitch count was still manageable, barely above 80. But the trouble started to brew as Kyle Seager singled to center field. Moments later, Guillermo Heredia ripped a game-tying double to left field, knotting the game at 2-2.

Yost emerged from the dugout and called on Buchter, a recently acquired reliever from the San Diego Padres. Buchter would finish the inning with two strikeouts _ but not before allowing two bloop singles that stretched the Mariners' lead to 4-2.

Hammel (5-9) would take the loss after allowing three runs in 61/3 innings. The Royals (56-52) dropped to 3{ games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians after their division rival routed the New York Yankees.

The seventh inning was the pivot point. Yet the offense could not break through against Paxton, who surrendered two earned runs in six innings. Paxton would exit after 96 pitches.

When the Royals swept the Mariners at Safeco Field in early June, Paxton was still on the disabled list, recovering from a forearm strain. In the month of July, he was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball.

In six starts, he posted a 6-0 record with a 1.37 ERA and 46 strikeouts. As he took the mound on Friday, he had not allowed a run in 17 innings. The scoreless streak would last for four more innings as Paxton took a no-hitter in the fifth.

Mike Moustakas recorded a sharp single to right with one out to break up the no-hit bid. He would score on a two-out single from Brandon Moss, tying the score at 1-1.

In between the singles, Moustakas moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch from Paxton. He advanced to third when rookie Jorge Bonifacio hit a hard chopper to second base. The wild pitch helped avoid a double play. Moss, who homered twice on Thursday night, continued his productive stretch, dropping a single into left-center field.

Moss was in the lineup because of solid career numbers against Paxton. Bonifacio was back in as left fielder Alex Gordon received a day off against a difficult left-hander.

The Royals would grab a 2-1 lead in the sixth when Whit Merrifield led off with a double and scored on a wild pitch with two outs. Merrifield had moved to third on a single from Lorenzo Cain before Melky Cabrera grounded out to shortstop against a drawn-in infield and Eric Hosmer struck out swinging. He made a mad dash for home on a wild pitch to catcher Salvador Perez.

Moments after the sixth inning, Perez exited the game after striking out. His status was not immediately available but it appeared he had a recurrence of a recent side issue.