ST. LOUIS — Yuniesky Betancourt just wasn’t going to be denied the hero’s role Sunday afternoon awhen the first round of the I-70 Series concluded at Busch Stadium.
When his RBI double in the 14th inning wasn’t enough to produce a victory, Betancourt delivered a two-run homer in the 15th that propelled the Royals to a remarkable 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
“That’s destiny,” he said. “It was my opportunity to put the team ahead twice, and I was just trying to do my best. And it happened.”
Hey, a lot happened in the five full hours it took to play this one.
“You’d need to stay here all day to sum up that whole game,” Billy Butler said. “It’s like we were throwing jabs at each other. We’d take a step forward, and they’d fight right back. Yuni threw the knockout punch there in the 15th.”
Betancourt’s game-winner, and his almost game-winner, were only possible because Butler boomed a two-out pinch homer in the ninth inning against Cardinals closer Jason Motte on an 0-2 fastball that stunned the crowd of 41,680.
“I was obviously trying to go for the strikeout,” Motte said. “He guessed right and hit it out of the ballpark.”
Betancourt’s homer provided Jonathan Broxton with an opportunity at redemption after failing to hold a 3-2 lead in the 14th inning. Broxton had not pitched more than a single inning in any of his previous 25 appearances.
“After that first inning,” he said, “anybody would be anxious to get back out there. The guys battled and grinded all day. It got to me, and I couldn’t hold it down. Once we scored again, yeah, I’ve just got to go out there, grab the bull by the horns and ride him.
“We got him all the way rode this time.”
Broxton, 1-1, closed the game with a one-two-three 15th that included two strikeouts.
It was an exhausting effort that saw the Royals use seven relievers and all four of their positional reserves. The Cardinals used six relievers and all of their reserves. Both teams were forced to send pitchers up as pinch-hitters.
Bruce Chen batted for Tim Collins in the 13th inning and singled through the left side – the first hit in Royals’ history by a pitcher as a pinch-hitter. The Cardinals used Joe Kelly as a pinch-hitter to start the 15th against Broxton; he struck out.
“We won,” manager Ned Yost said. “That’s all I can say… I’ve never been through a game like that. You don’t have any players left. You don’t have any pitchers left. You’re just scraping to get by, and you end up winning it.”
The Royals won for the fifth time in six games since suffering a three-game sweep at Pittsburgh. That puts them at 29-35 in their effort to claw back to .500 and just five games behind first-place Chicago in the American League Central Division.
Jarrod Dyson started the 15th inning with a bunt single to first when he outraced pitcher Eduardo Sánchez (0-1) to base. Dyson went to second on Brayan Peña’s sacrifice but held on Alex Gordon’s fly to center.
Betancourt then drove a 1-1 fastball into the Royals’ bullpen for a two-run homer.
“He threw me a lot of breaking balls in the previous at-bat,” Betancourt said. “So I was waiting for that fastball. He saw that I took pretty good hacks on his breaking ball. So he tried to sneak one fastball in, and I got lucky.”
Broxton’s troubles in the 14th started when he issued a leadoff walk to Allen Craig, who raced to third on Adron Chambers’ one-out single up the middle.
The Royals then caught an enormous break when Craig broke from third on Tyler Greene’s drive to center. Craig had to return to the base. Had he been positioned to tag up, he likely would have scored the tying run.
It was a temporary reprieve.
Yadier Molina tied the game by lining a pinch single into left but, when Broxton struck Shane Robinson, the game went to the 15th inning.
Betancourt’s first stab at heroics came after Alex Gordon tied his own franchise record by opening the 14th inning against Sánchez by drawing his fifth walk of the game.
Gordon broke for second on a 2-2 pitch to Betancourt – and scored when Betancourt floated a Sánchez slider into the left-field corner for an RBI double.
That wasn’t enough, but Betancourt made sure in the 15th inning.
“Sometimes, pitchers think they can sneak one by you,” he said. “The fact that I hit a slider for a double (in the 14th inning), that kind of set him up for that fastball.”
The Royals were one strike away from a loss when Butler crushed a 98-mph fastball from Motte for a two-out homer in the ninth inning – crushed as in driving it 438 feet into the seats beyond the Royals’ bullpen in left field.
“We didn’t want to leave Billy’s bat out of the game,” Yost said. “We got to the spot with two outs in the ninth, and I wanted to take a shot with Billy. Dadgum if he didn’t hit a homer.”
Butler’s blast took Luis Mendoza off the hook for a loss and stuck St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright with a tough no-decision after yielding just one run in seven innings.
Mendoza carried a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning before Matt Holliday and Allen Craig hit homers in a three-pitch span. Holliday rocked a 434-foot drive to the left side of dead center on a 2-2 breaking ball; Craig yanked an 0-1 fastball into the left-field seats.
“The pitch to Holliday,” Mendoza said, “I just missed location. I wanted something down to bounce in the dirt, and it was up. With Craig, that was a great pitch. I’ve just got to give the credit to him. He was able to pull that ball and hit it out of the park.”
It stayed that way until Butler pulled the Royals even.
“Motte blew the pitch before right by me,” Butler said. “So I had to shorten up and just put the barrel on it. That’s what I did. I was just trying to be as quick as I could to the ball. Just be as quick as possible and hope something good happens.
“When it’s 0-2, not a lot of good things happen usually.”