KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is no question this series means something to Billy Butler and the rest of the Royals.
Look no further than his ninth-inning tirade Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Johnson promptly moved into scoring position by stealing second base on the first pitch – a ball – to Butler.
Then came two more misfires from Detroit closer Jose Valverde to put Butler in a 3-0 count. Next, the burly DH took a called strike and then fouled off three straight pitches.
And then, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, came a wobbly split-finger fastball that floated inside.
Called third strike.
“Division rivals, we already took one from them, we’re trying to battle back in this thing,” Butler said. “We got a shot right there off their closer.”
So you can understand when Butler, incensed at what he felt was an opportunity snatched from him, shared a few choice words with home plate umpire Jordan Baker following the at-bat.
Then, after Lorenzo Cain fouled off the first pitch in the following plate appearance, Butler stormed out of the dugout, prompting a heated exchange with Baker that ultimately led to his ejection.
“I didn’t think it was close when it was called,” Butler said. “I went and looked at it on video, and it was even more in than I thought it was. He told me it was on the plate. … So I lost my cool. You can understand that.”
On both of Butler’s outbursts, manager Ned Yost followed. He, too, was vocal but did not get tossed. Instead, he watched Cain pop out to center and David Lough weakly ground out in front of the plate to end the game. With the loss also went a guaranteed series win.
Had Butler been awarded first base for taking the walk, Kansas City would have had runners on first and second with no outs.
“It’s unfortunate in a crucial part of the game,” Yost said. “Billy’s working hard to get to a 3-2 count, and the ball’s up and inside and it’s called strike three. It wasn’t even a borderline pitch. In a one-run game, that changes the whole complexion of the game because now you’ve got runners on first and second and you’ve got Lorenzo Cain up that probably has the opportunity to put down a bunt and you’ve got two cracks at winning the game with Lough and (Mike) Moustakas.”
In the broader context, this is a huge series for KC. After making everyone believers in April and then doubling back through a miserable May, the Royals have had a fine start to June. Before last night’s 3-2 setback, they had won six straight and taken the series lead against American League Central leader Detroit in a 3-2 win Monday.
But not is all lost. The Royals can still win this series. They’ve just made it a bit harder on themselves.
Ace James Shields – who has just two wins despite a 2.81 ERA (the seventh-best in the AL) – is towing the rubber today against Detroit fireballer/2011 Cy Young/MVP winner Justin Verlander (8-4, 3.71 ERA).
A win in the rubber match would not only help the Royals inch back toward .500-respectability, but restore confidence that this team is more like the April version than the May.
And it’s good to see KC showing some fire. They want to right the ship.
“Everything shows it was inside and in that situation, I just don’t think that can happen,” Butler said. “That’s my opinion. First and second with no outs, we have a pretty good chance of winning that ball game and then that happens. I’m not saying there’s anything guaranteed but that’s ninth inning, emotions are high, everything’s on the line. (I) had a heck of an at-bat, just trying to get him over, trying to drive him in and then that happens, so of course, you know, I’m going to be pretty chapped.”