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Butler nets third Royals Player of the Year Award

KANSAS CITY -- OK, so Billy Butler didn't get to compete in the Home Run Derby at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City. He nonetheless hit plenty of homers for the Royals this season when they really counted.

Butler banged 29 home runs -- including 14 that either tied the score or gave the Royals the lead -- while driving in 107 runs. He also knocked 32 doubles and batted .313, tied for sixth in the American League.

So it's fitting that on Wednesday Butler was unveiled as winner of the Les Milgram Award as the Royals Player of the Year, voted on by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The award is in memory of Milgram, a Kansas City businessman who helped convince Royals founder Ewing Kauffman to invest in the expansion franchise.

Butler is a three-time winner of the award. He also was honored in 2009-10, and left fielder Alex Gordon won in 2011.

"I felt comfortable all year from day one, I was locked in," Butler said. "It's hard to say I'm going to go out there and put up better numbers than I did this year but, hey, I'm sure going to try. ... But I'm not going to complain if I do exactly what I did this year every year."

This is the third major team award voted on by the BBWAA. Closer Greg Holland was named Pitcher of the Year and shortstop Alcides Escobar won the Special Achievement Award.

Butler's primary duty for the Royals was designated hitter, although he also started 20 games at first base. However, he was the AL's most-used DH, and his production clearly stamped him as a front-runner for the annual Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.

One of Butler's most memorable home runs, however, came as a pinch-hitter in St. Louis. On June 17, with the Royals one strike away from defeat, Butler blasted a drive off Cardinals closer Jason Motte for a 2-2 tie. The Royals took the game to 15 innings and won, 5-3.

The fact was that Butler had studied Motte, just as he does all pitchers during the season.

"He really works at it," Royals manager Ned Yost said after Butler was named to the AL All-Star team. "People have no idea how in depth Billy is when it comes to hitting. I've seen guys that can hit but can't hit really good pitching. Billy can hit really good pitching. That Motte deal in St. Louis was just another example of it. He's the total package when it comes to an offensive player."

The big guy had other big moments, including:

May 8 -- Butler smashed a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning for a 6-4 victory over the Red Sox, a mammoth shot that splashed into Kauffman Stadium's left-field fountain.

June 27 -- His solo home run in the eighth inning soared through oppressive 101-degree heat to snap a tie and provide a 5-4 victory and a three-game sweep of the Rays.

July 18 -- A leadoff homer in the ninth inning gave the Royals an 8-7 victory over the visiting Mariners. The walk-off blast was the club's first since Butler did it more than a year earlier against the Angels.

Aug. 9 -- His first three at-bats in an 8-2 romp over the Orioles resulted in a three-run homer, a triple and a double. All he needed for the rare cycle was a single, but yikes, then he struck out twice.

Sept. 15 -- Butler's two-run homer tied the Angels, 2-2, in the ninth and Salvador Perez followed with a game-winning shot, both off closer Ernesto Frieri. That flurry cost Zack Greinke a victory.

"I certainly pride myself in driving in big runs," Butler said. "I believe that there are definitely players that raise their game when the team needs it most and, honestly, that's what I want to be for this team. And that's what I'm expected to do when I'm in the middle of the lineup."

This year marked Butler's first All-Star Game, and although he wasn't picked for the Home Run Derby, a cause célèbre among vocal Kansas City fans, he was immensely proud of the honor. He did get two at-bats but went hitless as the National League won, 8-0.

When it comes to home runs, Yost frequently says that Butler can be expected to pound more as his career progresses. In his six years with Kansas City, he's slugged 103, and this year's 29 was his career high by eight. It also was close enough to Steve Balboni's 36 in 1985 that folks might wonder if Butler could someday beat Bye Bye's club record.

The vast dimensions of Kauffman Stadium are a challenge for home run hitters. This year Butler had 11 homers at home and 18 on the road. In 1985, Balboni had 17 at Kauffman and 19 away.

Butler's favorite road stadiums were Camden Yards in Baltimore, where he hit four homers, and Progressive Field in Cleveland, three.

It's a whole different scene, because most of the ballparks from Balboni's day are gone -- in 1985 he hit five at now-extinct Tiger Stadium in Detroit. These days, there are more homers flying in the AL -- exactly 2,500 this season, compared to 2,178 in 1985.

"Home runs are directly related to other parks that have been built since Steve Balboni played and have been made smaller and all that kind of stuff goes into it," Butler said. "But 36 home runs is an amazing feat and for it to still be standing from what he did in 1985 is one of those things that's going to be tough to beat."

For Butler, it's going to be one step at a time. He has to get to 30 first and Yost believes that will happen.

"I said last year Billy was a 30 [home run], 100-RBI guy," Yost said after Butler reached the century mark in RBIs. "I think Billy's capable of being a huge run-producer in the American League, a guy that's capable of having 120, 130 RBIs every year. He just keeps getting better and better."

Kansas City Royals, Billy Butler