Will Smith ladies and gentlemen.

It’s rarely possible for a middle reliever to take a star turn in a close game but Smith delivered a killer 4 1/3 innings on Monday afternoon in a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium.

Smith permitted one hit on a ball that center fielder Jarrod Dyson lost in the sun after replacing an erratic Danny Duffy with two on and two outs in the fourth inning.

“I don’t know what it was” Smith said “but it worked today.”

That is major-league understatement. Smith 2-1 set a career high with eight strikeouts and did so with eye-popping efficiency by throwing just 46 pitches.

“He was able to throw a curveball and a slider effectively” Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. “Then he was able to get a fastball in there too to sort of slow us down and then speed us up. He did a great job today.”

It was good enough to enable the Royals to beat Seattle ace Felix Hernandez who permitted three runs and six hits 6 2/3 innings before departing after experiencing a cramp in his lower back.

“For a couple of innings” manager Ned Yost said “it looked like the strike zone was getting expanded a little bit. When you get Felix Hernandez on top of his game with an expanded strike zone you’re going to be in trouble.”

Now add Duffy struggling to find the strike zone...but Smith changed the game’s geometry.

“Oh man” Dyson marveled “that dude did a heck of a job on the bump today. Will he had everything working.”

The Royals nicked Hernandez 12-9 for the tying run in the fourth inning on Mike Moustakas’ RBI single before a run-and-hit play with Dyson and Alcides Escobar fueled a two-run fifth.

That was it. And it was enough.

Smith nursed that lead to All-Star closer Greg Holland who worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 30th straight successful save conversion and his 37th overall in 39 chances.

The Royals improved to 71-66 and moved temporarily to within five games of Tampa Bay for the American League’s final wild-card slot. The Rays played later Monday at Los Angeles.