Butler leads comeback victory in grand fashion
First career grand slam helps overcome four-run deficit
PHILADELPHIA -- Royals manager Ned Yost had to white-knuckle two straight ninth innings in this series -- but he definitely enjoyed Sunday's a lot more.
The Royals fought back from a 4-0 deficit Sunday, piling up a 9-4 lead, only to watch their bullpen stagger to the finish line. With the winning run on second, Kelvin Herrera struck out Erik Kratz to finally end a 9-8 Royals win. The Royals bounced back from Saturday's 4-3 loss -- in which the Phillies scored three in the ninth for the victory -- to win the series and head home at 3-3.
"That was a little rough on the manager," Yost said. "But we got through it. It was a 'W' and a good day.
"You know, with the exception of the ninth inning [Saturday], and the exception of the ninth inning today, I thought we played exceptional baseball against a really tough team. There are a lot of things to like about our team."
James Shields allowed four runs in the first inning, and the Royals looked like they were in tough shape against Cole Hamels (who has a career 45-5 record when pitching with a lead of four runs or more). But Billy Butler, who entered play Sunday just 2-for-15 with one RBI, finally got hot. Butler slugged a grand slam and drove in seven runs; a career high and a Royals franchise record. Twelve Royals have driven in seven runs in a game; Jose Guillen in 2008 was the last.
"You knew it was just a matter of time with him," Yost said.
"I didn't feel like I was seeing the ball well," Butler said. "I wasn't seeing breaking pitches. I've been working on stuff the last few days with [hitting coach Jack Maloof], and I feel like I've made some adjustments and slowed things down."
Butler's first career grand slam took a little while to register. In the fifth inning, Butler hit a ball into the flower bed in left field at Citizens Bank Park, which offers a peculiar bit of architecture that occasionally leads to just this kind of confusion. Just behind the flower bed is a fence just in front of the fans in the first row. A ball into the flower bed is a home run, but occasionally a ball will ricochet off the second fence and give the umpires something to talk about.
With the Royals trailing 4-2 in the fifth, and Hamels seemingly in control of the game, Chris Getz led off with a double. Shields, swinging away after popping up a bunt attempt in the third, struck out. Alex Gordon singled up the middle; only a diving stop by Jimmy Rollins kept the ball from going into center field and held Getz at third. Hamels walked Alcides Escobar to load the bases for Butler.
Butler then drove a ball into the flower bed, just over the glove of a leaping Domonic Brown. The ball bounced back onto the field of play, and third base umpire Jeff Kellogg signaled that the ball was still in play. Butler pulled up at second with what was originally ruled a double, but Yost was out quickly to argue the call.
The umpires gathered to review it and came to the correct call of a home run.
"It was tough to see; I just knew the ball bounced back on the field off that railing," Butler said. "I was just standing at second until they told me otherwise."
That was enough to put the Royals back in the lead into the ninth, as Shields settled down and was spectacular over five scoreless innings after a difficult first. Shields exited after six innings, allowing 10 hits (just five after the first) and striking out eight without walking a batter.
"They've got good hitters over there, and they found some holes," Shields said. "But then it's my job to stop the bleeding and hold them at bay. I just kept pounding the strike zone."
Yost and the Royals were impressed with how Shields was able to maintain his composure after the first inning.
"He really competed well, and gave us a chance to hit our way back into the game," Yost said.
"Shieldsy locked them down after the first," Butler said. "He was dominant after they jumped on him."
The Royals added on in the sixth, chasing Hamels. With two outs, Shields singled to keep the inning alive. Gordon doubled, and Escobar walked to load the bases. Butler greeted reliever Chad Durbin with a single to center to score two runs.
Gordon's RBI single in the eighth made it 9-4. But then things went a little crazy, and an unsettled bullpen was the only question mark of the day.
J.C. Gutierrez allowed a three-run homer to Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of the ninth to make it 9-7. That brought Yost from the dugout, calling for Greg Holland. But Holland didn't get a chance to bounce back from Saturday's loss; after the closer allowed singles to Ryan Howard and Michael Young, Yost waved in reliever Herrera.
Laynce Nix jumped on Herrera with a single to center, making it 9-8 and putting the winning run on base. Herrera then threw a wild pitch to put two runners in scoring position. Kratz fouled off five two-strike pitches ("He was ready for everything," Herrera said), but finally Herrera struck out Kratz to end it.
"We were trying to get through the game without going to either [Holland or Herrera]," Yost said. "But that five-run lead evaporated into a two-run lead in a hurry, and it was kind of touch-and-go there."
Yost emphasized that no roles have changed in the bullpen. Sunday was just a day when he had to find a way through it.
"I just really liked the matchup of Herrera on Nix, because of [the] changeup," Yost said. "That's the reason for the move there."