KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All the Royals needed Saturday night, as it turned out, was to get Zack Greinke, their former Cy Young Award winner, out of the game.
Once Greinke departed, Billy Butler and Salvy Perez hit back-to-back homers in the ninth inning against Angels closer Ernesto Frieri that lifted the Royals to an unprecedented 3-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
“I was looking for a fastball,” Butler said. “Absolutely. I told Sal on deck that he’s predominantly a heater (pitcher). You’ve got to go up there and not be late. Neither of us was late.”
Greinke handed a 2-0 lead to Frieri with one out in the ninth inning after surrendering a single to Alex Gordon. Butler tied the score by crushing Frieri’s first pitch, a fastball, for a 423-foot homer to center.
Perez then pulled a 1-1 fastball for a high drive down the left-field line that struck the foul pole for the first walk-off homer in his professional career.
“It’s part of baseball,” Greinke said. “Ernie has a great fastball. Billy is a good fastball hitter. (On Friday), he got it by him. Tonight, he threw his best pitch, it didn’t work out.
“As a closer, you have to do what you do. That was pretty amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen back-to-back homers to walk off. Don’t know if it’s ever happened.”
Never before by the Royals. This marked the first time in the franchise’s 44-year history that they tied a game with a homer before the next batter hit a walk-off homer. That covers 6,972 regular-season games.
“I don’t try to understand this game,” Frieri said. “It’s crazy … I feel bad because Greinke pitched a great game – 8 1/3 strong innings. It only took four pitches to lose the game.”
The Royals saw it as payback for a disappointing 9-7 loss in Friday’s opener, when they held a two-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning but failed to close out a victory.
“On Friday night,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “we let one get away. Tonight, we stole one from them.”
Greinke had thrown 109 pitches when Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted for Frieri, who entered at 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA, 19 saves in 21 chances and a reputation for relying on a fastball that pushes double figures.
“We wanted to give them a different look,” Scioscia said. “Obviously, it didn’t work out. Zack was getting (close) to 110. If it’s a long at-bat, he’s probably getting into a pitch count that’s a little uncomfortable.
“Ernie just hit some bats with a couple fastballs.”
Butler’s homer stuck Greinke with a tough no-decision and permitted Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie to escape with a no-decision after eight strong innings. Butler had also hit a drive to center against Greinke in the seventh that traveled roughly 400 feet for an out.
“I hit that one really good, too,” Butler said. “The one I (for the homer), I hit a little bit lower, but I felt like I hit it just as good. This park does funny things at night. But I knew that one I hit (in the ninth) was gone.”
The only question on Perez’s high fly to left was whether the ball would stay fair.
“I knew it was pretty close,” he said. “I just watched the umpire. Then I saw the umpire put his hand up (and signal home run), and I said, ‘We’ve got it!’”
The ball caromed off the foul pole and brought the Royals flooding onto the field as Perez circled the bases. The celebration at the plate paused for a moment because Perez turned his helmet into an aerial missile by throwing it straight up in the air.
The usual procedure, he was soon informed, is to throw it away from the scrum.
“Next time,” he laughed, “I will put it in the dirt.”
Kelvin Herrera (4-3) got the victory after pitching a scoreless ninth in relief of Guthrie, who limited the Angels to two runs and five hits in eight innings. And one of those runs was tainted.
Guthrie surrendered a leadoff homer in the fifth to Kendrys Morales, whose two-run pinch homer Friday keyed the Angels’ comeback. LA’s other run scored in the eighth when Francoeur lost a two-out fly ball in the lights.
“I made a lot of mistakes with my slider,” said Guthrie, who has a 1.78 ERA in an eight-start unbeaten streak. “So I was forced to pitch with a majority of fastballs at least later in the counts. I was able to get ground balls most of the night.”
Greinke now has numbing no-decisions in his two starts at Kauffman Stadium since the blockbuster Dec. 19, 2010, trade that sent him to the Brewers.
The other one occurred earlier this season, June 12, while pitching for Milwaukee. He opened the game by surrendering a homer to Gordon, but the Royals got nothing more in his seven innings.
The Royals won that game by scoring once in the eighth against reliever Francisco Rodriguez (the former Angels’ closer, ironically) in a 2-1 victory. Butler drove in that winning run with an RBI single.
“We all know what type of pitcher Zack is,” Butler said. “He’s proven it day in and day out. It was a tough-luck no-decision for him, but he was dominant again. He had great stuff today. He was locating it well all day.”