Billy Butler finally emerged from the first-base dugout in the top of the eighth inning, clutching his bat as he headed for the on-deck circle.
The Royals and Giants had played 25 innings of baseball over three days here at AT&T Park, and Butler, the Royals’ barrel-chested designated hitter, had yet to step into the batter’s box.
He had waited his turn, watching a 3-2 victory on Friday and an 11-4 blowout in game four on Saturday. On Sunday, the Royals were in the midst of an eventual 5-0 loss to the Giants in game five of the World Series, and Butler had waited for seven more innings.
“It’s tough,” Butler would say.
Butler had waited in the fifth inning, when the Royals had a man on second with two outs, and manager Ned Yost let Jarrod Dyson and pitcher James Shields face the brilliant Madison Bumgarner. Dyson, a left-handed hitter, went down swinging against the left-handed power of Bumgarner. And Shields followed suit, fanning on four pitches.
Butler had waited in the seventh. First baseman Eric Hosmer had reached on a leadoff single, and catcher Salvador Perez lined out to left field. That brought up the left-handed hitting Mike Moustakas, who was zero for two with a strikeout. He flied out to center field.
“It was too early right there,” Yost would say. “We were still looking to keep our defense in the game.”
So, finally, it was Butler’s turn. He would pinch-hit for Dyson to lead off the eighth. Butler ripped a couple of practice swings, worked on his timing, and headed for the plate.
His one at-bat in San Francisco lasted all of three pitches — 93-mph fastball, 86-mph changeup, 76-mph curveball. Butler was frozen on the final strike.
“I felt good in my at-bat,” Butler said. “I just had some unfortunate pitches, and he made some tough pitches. It just didn’t go my way.”
In the moments after the game, Butler was visibly frustrated. For one, he knew of his past success against Bumgarner. When the Giants’ ace started against the Royals on Aug. 8 at Kauffman Stadium, Butler finished two for three with a homer and two RBIs. The Royals won 4-2, the first victory in a three-game sweep over the eventual National League champs.
When Bumgarner started game one at Kauffman Stadium, Butler was one for three with a single in the second inning. While Butler’s power and overall production dipped in the regular season, his ability to rake against left-handed pitchers has never waned. He batted .321 with a .460 slugging percentage against left-handers during the regular season.
On Sunday, Yost elected to stick with Hosmer, a left-handed hitter, at first base. For the third straight day, Butler was the victim of National League baseball, an offensive weapon shelved on the bench.
“It’s tough whenever you play every day and you know what your abilities are,” Butler said, trying to stay composed. “When you’ve performed at a high level my whole career, you feel like you can make a different each day you come to the park.”
Now the series moves back to Kansas City, and Butler will return to the lineup. The Royals must win to stay alive and force game seven. If Yost chooses, he can revert to the lineup that created so much havoc during the opening weeks of October.
“We’re an American League-style team,” Butler said.
For three days in San Francisco, Butler waited. Now he can attempt to make a difference in game six.
“Anytime you can insert a hitter like Billy back in the lineup, it’s huge for us,” Moustakas said. “He brings a lot to the table; he’s got power, he can drive the ball to all fields. So when we get him back in the lineup, anything is possible.”