KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A big-and-burly thumper still has a place on these flash-and-dash Kansas City Royals, it seems. Especially if he can deliver clutch hits in the World Series, the way Billy Butler did Wednesday night.
Butler stroked a hard, RBI single in the first inning that his team desperately needed, then lined a loud, tiebreaking single in the sixth to send the Royals past the San Francisco Giants 7-2, evening the Series at one game apiece.
"I felt like definitely it was a must-win for us," said Butler, likely to be on the bench when the Series shifts to San Francisco for the next three games. "We felt like with our big sixth inning there, we took a little momentum out of how they were playing."
They were by far the biggest hits in Butler's career, and came after a most trying season.
As the Royals relied more and more on their fleet of speedsters down the stretch, the designated hitter with the nickname "Country Breakfast" — he's conservatively listed around 240 pounds — seemed to fall out of favor with manager Ned Yost.
Many local fans wondered whether Butler fit in with how the streaking Royals played the game. Kansas City led the majors in stolen bases, and Butler even lost some at-bats to Josh Willingham and others in the final weeks.
Butler finished the season at .271 with just nine home runs and 66 RBIs, a far cry from his All-Star slugging in 2012. A huge disappointment, too, for someone who was drafted in the first round by the Royals in 2004 and always hoped to play meaningful games for them.
"There's always times when, the organization, we're losing 90 games at a time, and it always feels like we're developing players. But you just continue to grind and continue to do your job," Butler said.
Yost stuck with the DH going into the postseason, hoping he would regain his stroke. Butler did pull a surprise during his first trip to the playoffs, stealing a base for the first time since 2012.
Butler got one of the Royals' four hits in a 7-1 loss to the Giants in the Series opener, putting his postseason batting average at .233.
He quickly made up for lost production this year in Game 2.
After Gregor Blanco led off the game with a home run, Kansas City was in dire need of something going right. Alcides Escobar was caught stealing in the bottom of the first, but Lorenzo Cain doubled, Eric Hosmer walked and Butler picked on a familiar victim to tie it.
His sharp single to left field ended the Royals' 0-for-17 string with runners in scoring position dating to early in the AL Championship Series. It also made him 15 for 34 against Giants starter Jake Peavy.
"This is the postseason, so the other experiences really don't come into play," Butler said. "I know what he's featuring."
It was 2-all in the sixth when Butler greeted reliever Jean Machi with another solid single, putting Kansas City ahead for good.
"I knew he was going to attack me with a fastball. I was just looking for it up in the zone, and got a good pitch to hit," Butler said. "He had to come right after me."
After getting pulled for a pinch runner, Butler heard the crowd roaring his name. Egged on by teammates, he popped out of the dugout for a curtain call.
"It was one of those things where your teammates tell you to do it, you're going to get out there," Butler said. "It was an exciting time."
The Royals hold a contract option on the 28-year-old Butler for $12.5 million next year, and there's no telling whether they'll bring him back.
Because, after all, his type of player doesn't really fit on these Royals, right?
"I think things will work out. They work out however they do after the season. I'm focused on the World Series at this time," Butler said. "This team is counting on me as well to do my job, and that's in the middle of the lineup and being an impact bat.
"This is all I've ever known," he added. "So I'm proud to be here and I'm proud to be a Royal. I always have been."