The silver lining, if you look hard enough, is Billy Butler’s now ubiquitous barbecue sauce could get a boost in sales from those who prefer their condiments shaded toward Hades-style hot.
If the heat Butler flashed Tuesday in the ninth inning — prior to and following his ejection for arguing a called third strike — comes in a bottled warning labels should specify a cold pitcher be nearby when consuming.
Here’s the shorthand: The Royals saw their six-game winning streak come to an end in a 3-2 loss to Detroit in a marvelously tense pitchers’ duel between Wade Davis and former Missouri All-American Max Scherzer.
The climax came in the ninth inning with Butler at the plate against Tigers closer José Valverde, who was attempting to close out Scherzer’s victory.
Valverde had stoked the tension by yielding a leadoff single to Salvy Perez. Pinch-runner Elliot Johnson then stole second on the first pitch, a ball, to Butler.
Butler jumped ahead 3-0 in the count before Valverde battled back to 3-2. A couple of fouls, and then Butler took a borderline pitch that he believed was clearly inside. Umpire Jordan Baker thought otherwise, signaled a third strike, and Butler’s temperature zoomed to equatorial levels.
“I didn’t think it was close when it got called,” Butler said. “I went and looked at it on video, and it was even more in(side) than I thought it was. He told me it was on the plate.”
Butler barked sharply at the call and initially — let’s credit Baker here for restraint — got away with that protest. But when Butler checked the video, and launched into a new tirade from the dugout, Baker had enough.
The ejection brought Butler sprinting (well, sorta) from the dugout in a fashion not seen in blue since George Brett’s famous 1983 pine-tar charge at Yankee Stadium.
(No, it didn’t quite rise to that level, but it was still zestfully spiced.)
“In that situation in the game,” Butler said, “when we would have had first and second with no outs, so I lost my cool. You can understand that that ball was inside. Everything shows it was inside.
“In that situation, I just don’t think that can happen. That’s my opinion.”
The strikeout turned the inning around.
“I made a pitch,” Valverde said, “and I made the umpire call it. That’s it. I don’t care what (Butler) was doing.”
Valverde retired Lorenzo Cain on a pop to short and David Lough, who earlier hit his first career homer, on a squibber in front of the plate.
“Your heart is always in your throat in the ninth inning if it’s a real close game no matter what,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Papa Grande (Valverde’s nickname) is a real cool customer.”
Scherzer got the victory and improved to 9-0. Valverde got his ninth save in 11 chances. The Royals, meanwhile, were left to wonder in frustration what might have been.
“It’s unfortunate in a crucial part of the game,” manager Ned Yost said. “The ball is up and inside, and it’s called strike three. It wasn’t even a borderline pitch.
“In a one-run game, that changes the whole complexion of the game.”
Ironically, perhaps, it was another freebie that produced the winning run. Not a walk, but a hit batsman to start the eighth inning of a 2-2 game.
Aaron Crow, 2-2, had just bailed out Tim Collins from a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning when he started the eighth by nicking Miguel Cabrera with an 0-1 slider.
“It was just a bad pitch that got away from me,” Crow said. “I left it in. I was trying to go down and away with it. I’ve just got to do a better job of executing.”
Prince Fielder followed with a single to right that moved Cabrera, off on the full-count pitch, to third with no outs. Victor Martinez’s sacrifice fly to left produced the go-ahead run.
It was the first run allowed by the Royals’ bullpen in 22 innings, and it was decisive. Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth after replacing Scherzer, who permitted just three hits in seven innings.
That got the game to Valverde.
The Royals’ three hits against Scherzer all came in the fifth when they erased a 2-0 deficit. Lough led off with a homer, and Alcides Escobar tied the game with a two-out single.
Davis got a no-decision after holding the Tigers to two runs and eight hits in 62/3 innings. He exited after yielding a single to Omar Infante.
That was Davis’ 100th pitch, and it prompted Yost to go to the bullpen for Collins. The Tigers countered by sending up Avasail Garcia for Don Kelly to avoid a lefty-on-lefty matchup.
Garcia punched an 0-2 fastball up the middle for a single that moved Infante to third.
That led to another pinch hitter: Matt Tuiasosopo for Andy Dirks, again to avoid a lefty-on-lefty matchup. A walk loaded the bases and brought Crow in to face Torii Hunter.
Crow struck out Hunter — huge at the time; not so huge an inning later. Even so, it was all just prelude to the heated climax generated by Butler, Valverde and Baker in the ninth.
“First and second with no outs (if the pitch is called a ball),” Butler said, “we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning that ballgame...It’s frustrating to say the least.”
Oh, he said a lot more.