KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Jeremy Guthrie’s return to the starting rotation Tuesday offered a vivid reminder of why his role was reduced last month.
Less than three innings into Tuesday’s 11-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, Guthrie had surrendered four home runs, two to Robinson Cano and his second not landing until it had traveled 433 feet to the fountains.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Guthrie said afterward. “I felt pretty good about the pitches I’d thrown in recent outings and was unable to do that tonight.”
Cano’s blast was part of a dizzying seven-run third inning that turned the game into a laugher and prevented the Royals from taking care of their end of division-clinching business.
The Royals entered the night with a magic number of three. A combination of three Royals victories and losses by the second-place Minnesota Twins would give the Royals their first American League Central crown — baseball went to three divisions in 1994 — and their first division title since 1985.
The Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 3-1 on Tuesday, so the Royals’ magic number remains three.
The Royals also were keeping an eye on another game. The New York Yankees’ victory over the Toronto Blue Jays meant that the Royals maintained their 1.5 games over the Jays for the best record in the American League and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
The Mariners hit for the cycle in the third inning and added another home run. Brad Miller’s two-run shot ended Guthrie’s night and perhaps more opportunities to start a game for the Royals. He had returned to the rotation after the Royals assigned Danny Duffy to the bullpen last week.
“I don’t make those decisions after games, you know that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said when whether Guthrie would get another start. “We’ll sleep on it.”
Guthrie’s final line — 2.1 innings, nine hits, nine runs, eight earned — wasn’t his worst of the season. That occurred in New York on May 25 when he surrendered 11 earned runs, four on home runs, in one inning against the Yankees.
But it matched Guthrie’s worst home outing as a Royal, and as badly as this season has unfolded for him, that’s a reversal of fortune.
He had won four of his last five starts at Kauffman Stadium and was 23-16 in 28 career home starts for the Royals.
Tuesday, Guthrie equaled his earlier four home run pratfall.
The game’s second batter, Kyle Seager, hit a laser into the right field seats. Two batters later Cano followed with his first blast.
The long ball has haunted Guthrie this season. Entering the night, he had surrendered 25, tied for the sixth most in the American League. None of the pitchers ahead of him were scheduled to start on Tuesday, meaning Guthrie could finish the night tied for first with 29.
And Guthrie hadn’t started a game since Aug. 18.
The Royals didn’t offer much support in the field or at the plate.
An error by first baseman Eric Hosmer kept the third inning merry-go-round alive.
The Mariners had 11 runs before the Royals had their second hit off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
In the first, the opportunity to answer a 2-0 deficit presented itself when Ben Zobrist walked and Lorenzo Cain singled.
But Hosmer lined out to shortstop and Kendrys Morales, Sunday’s hero with a club-record tying three home runs, struck out.
Iwakuma, who threw the fifth no-hitter in Mariners’ history in August when he beat the Orioles, breezed with the big lead, surrendering three hits and striking out 10 in seven innings.
If there was a bright spot for the Royals, relief pitcher Scott Alexander delivered three scoreless innings and allowed Yost to save front-line bullpen arms.
“We’re in the third inning and you have to find seven innings of pitching, how are we going to do that?” Yost said. “Multiple guys are going to have to come in and pitch multiple innings. It can get really ugly. Alexander got three big innings.
“He saved us from having to put a position player on the mound because I’m not using any of the big guys in a game like this.”
The Royals broke through in the eighth. Alcides Escobar and Christian Colon singled. Terrence Gore was struck by Mariners reliever Tony Zych. Francisco Pena chopped a grounder that shortstop Ketel Marte mishandled for an error.
They tacked on another run in the ninth on Alex Rios’ double to center, extending his hitting streak to 11 games, and Escboar’s RBI single to left.
The blowout meant Wade Davis would debut in his new assignment.
Earlier in the day, Yost announced that Davis would finish the season as the closer and Greg Holland was moved to unspecified bullpen duty. Holland has been the Royals’ primary closer since the second half of the 2012 season and his 145 career saves are the fourth most in franchise history.
But Holland’s elbow trouble and recent ineffective outings prompted the change to Davis, who owns a 0.88 ERA primarily as the eighth-inning specialist this season.
Davis’ debut in that role had to wait another day. The blowout assured that.