Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler has been searching for his power swing all season. On Friday, he found it at a perfect time for manager Ned Yost. With the game tied in the eighth, BIlly Butler connected on a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run homer off Cleveland Indians reliever John Axford to provide the difference in Kansas City's 6-4 win.
Despite the power outage, Butler has been playing just about every day for Yost. Though that may change now with 42-year-old Raul Ibanez in the mix for at-bats. Butler came in hitting only .200 over his previous 20 games, which made Friday's decision easier. But his response to the benching could be the key to earning back his manager's trust.
''As of late, the production definitely is not there,'' said Butler. ''Over my career, it's there, but this game is about what you've done for me lately. If he (manager Ned Yost) thinks a guy matching up differently is better for the team, that's what he's got to do. He's got a job to do putting the lineup out there.
''It's just my job to prove I belong in there. I've been in the league a long time. If you give up and get put in a situation like that, you don't compete. I'm not going to give up.''
Message sent and received.
On the other side of the ledger, Axford was on the losing end for the second straight night. He also allowed Norichika Aoki's walk-off single in the 14th inning on Thursday, and felt none too good about it afterward.
''It's obviously tough after the last two nights,'' Axford said. ''It was just a bad pitch. I let it stay out over the plate. It was supposed to be away and it ended up in the seats.''
One pitch allowed a struggling hitter to regain confidence, while a struggling pitcher took another punch to the gut. The beauty and anguish of baseball.
REDS GOING THE WRONG WAY: The Cincinnati Reds made a strong run to finish the first half 1 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central. Since the break, they've gone in reverse, losing seven straight games, including falling 4-1 to the Washington Nationals on Friday.
Injuries to former All-Stars Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are at the forefront of Cincinnati's issues. Offensively, they haven't scored more than three runs in any of the seven losses. On Friday night, Nationals rookie right-hander Tanner Roark limited them to one run on three hits over seven innings, shining a brighter spotlight on their issues. However, manager Bryan Price isn't looking for excuses.
''It's just really a mental game,'' Price said. ''When we were going good before the break, nobody was pressing. Now, everybody's pressing. We can't get our offense going because we're not getting a lot of baserunners.''
The Reds were without Votto and Phillips for most of that run too, so it shows they're capable up picking up the slack. It just isn't clicking right now, and as a result they're six games back in the division and chasing three teams now instead of two.
ANGELS KEEP WHFFIN' BUT GET WIN:
After striking out 14 times in Thursday's loss to the Tigers, the Los Angeles Angels came out whiffing again on Friday. Detroit starter Drew Smyly struck out eight of the frst 10 hitters he faced on his way to a career-high 11 strikeouts. He also retired the first 13 batters overall, but the Angels scraped together two runs in the sixth to win it 2-1.
Kole Calhoun delivered the equalizer, scoring Chris Iannetta with a double. Three batters later, Efren Navarro, who replaced Josh Hamilton (knee soreness) in the fourth, followed an intentional walk to Albert Pujols with the go-ahead RBI single scoring Calhoun. The victory improved the Angels second-best record to 61-41. Unfortunately, the best record still belongs to Oakland at 63-39.
Detroit's sole offense was a solo home run by Miguel Cabrera in the fourth.
RAYS RATTLED OFF 8TH STRAIGHT WIN: From sellers to contenders in a matter of eight games? That appears to be the story of the Tampa Bay Rays, who notched their eighth straight victory on Friday, 6-4 over the Boston Red Sox.
David Price, the man who many expected to be the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade this month, showed why he's coveted by so many. He struck out 10 and allowed three runs over eight innings to win his sixth start in a row. That tied a franchise record shared by Matt Moore and Scott Kazmir.
Now the question is: Will he have a chance to break it?
The same goes for Red Sox starter Jon Lester. In perhaps his final Red Sox start, he allowed two runs over six innings. Though there was an interesting potential twist to that saga suggested after the game.
Yet another subplot on Friday was Price's first matchup against David Ortiz since drilling him with a fastball and inciting a benches' clearing situation on May 30. Oritz was greeted with massive boos at Tropicana Field, but both players were on their best behavior this time around. Ortiz went 1 for 4 with an RBI single.
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