KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thanks to Billy Butler’s speed — yep, you read that right — the Royals avoided a sweep and snapped a seven-game skid Sunday against Washington.
During the decisive two-run eighth, Butler reached on an infield single and later beat shortstop Ian Desmond’s throw to third on a force play as the Royals moved back above .500 with a 6-4 win.
“You can count them on one hand, if there’s ever been any,” Butler said when asked about the number of games that have turned into wins thanks to his wheels.
The Royals’ four-run opening salvo had the Kauffman Stadium crowd of 19,661 feeling good, but the Nationals clubbed three home runs off Ervin Santana, who took a no decision after serving up two long balls during a game-tying three-run seventh inning.
However, unlike Friday’s series opener when the Royals blew a six-run lead in an 11-10 loss, reliever Kelvin Herrera stopped the bleeding, the home side rallied, snapping the Nationals’ five-game win streak, when Greg Holland logged his 28th consecutive save.
“Every win’s big, but we’ve been having a tough go of it lately,” Butler said. “We jumped out early again today kind of like the first game of the series and then the same thing almost happened again, but it shows the character of this team. We never give up — we never have and we never will.”
The Royals couldn’t have asked for a better start.
After a 1-2-3 top of the first, Alex Gordon blasted a towering 411-foot shot to right-center — his 14th of the season and his 11th career leadoff home.
Emilio Bonifacio then walked and scored from first — rather impressively — on a single by Hosmer.
Against Washington starter Dan Haren, who is notoriously slow to the plate, Bonifacio lit out for second as Hosmer smoked a liner at Desmond, who was breaking to cover the bag.
Desmond stopped and made a backhanded stab at the ball, but Hosmer’s shot was too hot to handle and kicked off his glove into center field.
Meanwhile, Bonifacio headed for third, where Eddie Rodriguez waved him home.
Three batters later, Perez made it 4-0 with a no-doubt bomb — his sixth of the season — off the back wall of the Royals’ bullpen.
Washington pulled a run back in the fourth inning when Ian Desmond launched a 431-foot rocket off the Royals’ Hall of Fame, but the major damage came during a three-pitch span in the seventh.
Santana, who struck out seven and allowed 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings, retired the first two batters before Denard Span, who had drilled Santana on the right hip with a third-inning line drive, deposited the first pitch he saw 398 feet over the right-center field fence.
Ryan Zimmerman dumped Santana’s next pitch into left field for a single, prompting a visit from pitching coach Dave Eiland.
With Herrera hurriedly warming up, manager Ned Yost stuck with Santana — a move that backfired when Harper smashed the first pitch he saw the opposite way for a game-tying two-run shot.
“When you go through streaks like we have, players struggle and managers can struggle too,” Yost said. “It just seems like every decision you make doesn’t work. It just backfires.”
This time, though, the backfire didn’t doom the Royals, who rallied an inning later when Nationals first baseman and Fort Scott native Adam LaRoche bobbled Butler’s two-out grounder.
LaRoche still might have been able to beat Butler to the bag, but he hesitated and with reliever Craig Stammen breaking late from the mound, Butler was safe.
Hosmer, who had walked, moved to second on the play and a Mike Moustakas walk loaded the bases for Salvy Perez.
It was on Perez’s single to the hole at shortstop, which was originally ruled a fielder’s choice but subsequently changed, that Desmond fumbled the ball before recovering and trying to cut down Butler at third.
Instead, Butler beat Zimmerman to the bag as Hosmer scored the go-ahead run. Butler then scored on David Lough’s RBI single to right.
“My heart sunk there for a minute as soon as it was hit and I saw him going to third thinking, ‘Maybe I should have pinch run for him there,’” Yost said. “In the ninth, it’s no-brainer, but he ended up making it there and then scored on David Lough’s (single). Because it worked, the decision was right, but it was a tough decision.”