Two runners were on base with one out when Royals designated hitter Billy Butler stepped into the on-deck circle as a pinch hitter.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
The crowd of 40,933 at Kauffman Stadium was flushed with anticipation, thinking about the possibility of Butler coming up with the bases loaded in his All-Star Game debut in the sixth inning Tuesday night against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
I started to remember that hes done pretty well against knuckleball pitchers in the past, Butlers dad, J.D., said from his seat on the first-base side of home plate.
But when Miguel Cabrera grounded into an inning-ending double play, the crowd groaned and Butler would lead off the the seventh inning of the American Leagues 8-0 loss.
The crowd rose to its feet when Butler was announced as the pinch hitter against lefty Cole Hamels. In fact, the ovation for Butler was so loud that Hamels stepped behind the mound and let Butler soak in the moment, and he responded by doffing his blue helmet.
Then it was time for business. With the crowd chanting Butlers name, Hamels jumped ahead with a strike over the inside corner and got Butler to swing and miss on a change-up. Zero and 2. A fastball just missed the inside corner for ball one. Butler broke his bat on a foul ball off his foot.
Butler then rapped a hard grounder to third and was thrown out at first.
I wasnt nervous; I was just trying to put a good bat on Hamels; he obviously has great stuff, Butler said. I had to change my mind-set a little bit because I went from chasing a knuckleball guy to Hamels. Thats at the other end of the spectrum. I hit it hard, but thats what happens he broke one of my bats, too.
Butler got another chance in the ninth but struck out on a 3-2 pitch from Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan, who was all over the place, throwing one wild pitch inside and throwing another to the backstop. Butler might have swung at ball four when he fouled off a 3-2 pitch.
I thought it was going to be close; I didnt want to take anything close in that situation, he said. The last one had a lot of movement on it.
But going hitless in two appearances didnt detract from a memorable evening for Butler and his family.
In his big-league career, this is the biggest moment for sure said his wife, Katie, who met Butler when he played rookie ball in Idaho Falls in 2004. Its an unforgettable experience, being around all the Royals fans, and our family, and where weve been since 2007. Six years here, and this is the best weve ever seen Kansas City.
The day started early for Butler, who took his mother, Beth, for a spin in his new Mustang. Then, it was time for the All-Star Parade and Red Carpet show at the Plaza.
Weve seen a little of him, but not much, Beth Butler said from her seats in section 230 on the first base side. This is very neat. Im excited, very emotional. Im amazed. The fans (Monday) night were amazing. I didnt really realize how much they really loved their players.
Butler had 81/2 family members at the game, including his wife, Katie, who is expecting a child in January, and 3-year-old daughter Kenley; his parents who were in from Utah and Katies parents and siblings from Idaho and Montana.
Kenley sported two big bows in her hair with photos of her dad in each bow.
Before the game, Butler lined up on the first-base line for player introductions between Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout and Tigers star Miguel Cabrera. Butler received a thunderous ovation from the crowd, and while doffing his cap, he dropped it and had to sheepishly pick it up.
It was definitely very lengthy, and I got a little embarrassed obviously, and I was happy, Butler said. It was one of those things with all those great ballplayers on the field, and to get an ovation like that was great.
Then Butler served as catcher for former Royals star George Brett, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the two traded hugs. Brett was selected to 13 All-Star Games, but none in Kansas City.
Im very blessed Butler said. A lot of guys go through their whole career and make a lot of All-Star teams, and its never in their home ballpark. So Im definitely very thankful for this opportunity and Im loving every minute of it.
The hardest part was waiting for opportunity to perform. Butler had an indication from the coaching staff that he would replace the Red Sox David Ortiz after Big Papi batted once. But there were no guarantees.
You have to be ready and stay in the game and stay loose, Butler said. You dont know when its going to be, but you look forward to the right situation.
I was looking for one at-bat, and I got two, so I was very happy to get two.
Finally, when the call came in the seventh inning. Butler tried to remember what Royals manager and American League bench coach Ned Yost told him before the game.
I told him to enjoy it, Yost said. Enjoy it with your family. Enjoy the fans. Enjoy your teammates, because these guys for two days will be your teammates. I told Billy to take the time and stop and look around and realize where youre at, and try to remember it because it will be an experience youll never forget.
Butler reveled in the moment.
Just to see the place packed its a playoff atmosphere , Butler said. Hopefully its something we get to look forward to whenever we contend here.
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