KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Billy Butler finally got to swing the bat. He got to swing one a few times. Even broke one while facing Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star game at Kauffman Stadium.
Suddenly one of the most popular Royals players in history, and also, Royals fans contend, one of the most persecuted, Butler hit a sharp grounder to third baseman David Wright, whose throw to first was in plenty of time to retire Butler, whose All-Star appearance will be remembered for many years, but for the wrong reasons.
By the time Butler batted, the National League had built an 8-0 lead, thanks to a five-run first against the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner and MVP, right-hander Justin Verlander. The NL added three more in the fourth. The game had little excitement outside of the three NL triples that highlighted rallies.
Butler got another chance with a runner at third and one out in the ninth, but he chased and missed a Joel Hanrahan 3-2, down-and-away fastball.
Butler, who said the pregame ovation was the highlight of the week, said Tuesday was “what a playoff atmosphere feels like.”
While the current Royal wasn’t able to satisfy the crowd, a former Royal teased it. Left fielder Melky Cabrera, traded from KC to the San Francisco Giants after the 2011 season for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez — you know him from all the walks and hits he allows — ignited the five-run first with a one-out single, then turned out the lights with a two-run home run in the fourth off Texas lefty Matt Harrison.
Cabrera is one of the best hitters in baseball. He was one of the best hitters in baseball last season with the Royals, but they parted with him to try and fortify a pitching staff that has been easier to attack than Grenada.
Cabrera is hitting everything in sight for the Giants, who have had as much success in Kansas City as barbecue.
In the first of two All-Star games in 1960, Willie Mays led off a three-run first inning at Municipal Stadium with a triple and was 3 for 4 during a 5-3 win.
In the 1973 game, played during Kauffman Stadium’s inaugural season, the NL won 7-1 with Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds doubling and slamming a two-run homer.
It wasn’t just Cabrera, the All-Star Game MVP, who made a Giant impact Tuesday night. His teammate, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, cleared the loaded bases with a first-inning triple.
In three KC All-Star games, San Francisco hitters are 8 for 16 with five runs, seven RBIs, two triples and two homers.
Another Giant, right-hander Matt Cain, started the game with two scoreless innings. Nice night for San Fran.
Not so much for the American League, which generated only a couple of scoring threats only to see both doused by National League double plays. One of those potential uprisings was started by the infamous Robinson Cano, who singled to lead off the fourth inning. But the next hitter, Josh Hamilton, bounced into a double play.
Cano had the gall to not pick Butler to the American League’s four-man Home Run Derby squad, a slight Butler’s fans held against Cano for two days. They showered the Yankee second baseman, an All-Star starter, with boos and other unflattering noises. Remember, now, Butler is a fine hitter. But if there’s been a knock against him during his career it has been for his lack of power. Butler has homered once every 32 at-bats as a big leaguer, so it’s not as if the world was robbed of watching the next Babe Ruth club baseballs into the dark of the night.
But Cano did say he was going to pick a Royal to the team if he got the chance, being that the game was in Kansas City, so I suppose he brought some of the vitriol on himself. Still, it wasn’t something that anyone will remember in a couple of days.
Overall, Royals fans were incredible during their All-Star experience, showing up in massive numbers not only for Tuesday night’s game, but also for the Futures Game, the celebrity softball game and the Home Run Derby. It’s too bad they weren’t treated to a more exciting All-Star game as the National League ran its winning streak to three and in those three victories has allowed only two runs.
And the NL will again have home-field advantage for the World Series, something that hasn’t worked out so well for the Texas Rangers and their skipper, Ron Washington, who managed the American League team Tuesday.
As for Butler, things didn’t go the way he wanted. He was so excited to play in his first All-Star game, and so insistent that what others perceived as a Home Run Derby snub didn’t bother him. It would have been nice to see him produce a hit, something a Royals player hasn’t done in an All-Star game since Bo Jackson had a couple of hits, one of them a long home run off of the Rick Reuschel, in 1989.
Baseball isn’t fair, however. Ask anyone who has ever played the game.
Butler will pick himself up, brush himself off, and go back to hitting in the middle of the Royals’ lineup for a team that is trying to dig out from more than a quarter century of difficult times.
Going 0 for 2 in the All-Star Game and not being chosen for the Home Run Derby are the least of his concerns.