KANSAS CITY — The Royals’ first sweep of the season was in reach on Sunday afternoon. Drew Butera wasn’t going to let that go to waste.
The catcher’s three-run inside-the-park homer in the seventh inning sent the Royals to a 5-3 win over the Twins at Kauffman Stadium after Minnesota center fielder Jake Cave came up short diving for the ball.
As Butera lumbered around third with home plate in his sights, the crowd was electric, seemingly already celebrating the homer. Manager Ned Yost, however, was a bit less sure.
“I think just like Evel Knievel, he pulled the parachute too early,” Yost said. “As soon as he hit third base, I mean, he looked like he was running underwater to me. And I thought, ‘Man, I don’t know if he’s gonna make it or not now.'”
But Brian Dozier’s relay throw came in just short, allowing Butera to slide in safely. He was met at the plate by a jumping Alcides Escobar, who scored on the play along with Alex Gordon to give the Royals a 5-2 lead.
Butera knew he had a chance at a big play when Cave missed the ball, but he didn’t think for a second he’d make it as far as he did.
“When I saw him dive, I was like, ‘All right, get it to third. No sense in sending me unless like the right fielder and left fielder fell down,'” Butera said. “When I got to third, [third-base coach Mike Jirschele] waved me. I said, ‘oh my God,’ but never stopped running.”
Butera’s heroics came on the heels of a stellar performance by batterymate Brad Keller, who struck out a career-high eight and allowed three runs across seven innings in his first start of the second half.
Keller came into the second half off two disappointing starts in a row, including the shortest of his career against the White Sox on July 13. The rookie was glad to respond with a dominant outing like this, and if you ask him, the long layoff may have had something to do with it.
“It was good just to have a reset,” Keller said. “A few rough starts, especially the one right before the break. Just used the All-Star break as a reset, just to clear my mind and come back out here today and go back to work.”
Yost, who has praised Keller’s mental approach all season, was confident the right-hander would bounce back.
“I told you guys before the game, I would be shocked if he didn’t pitch a good game,” Yost said. “I think he knew that he was off the attack a little bit his last two starts, and vowed to get back on the attack with his good stuff. And that’s exactly what he did.”
Keller came out firing on all cylinders early, retiring the first 10 Minnesota batters, and took a no-hit bid into the fourth inning before Dozier slapped an RBI double to right field. Dozier eventually scored on Logan Morrison’s fielder’s choice for a 2-0 lead.
Keller allowed a leadoff homer to Max Kepler in the eighth, followed by a walk to Ehire Adrianza that prompted Yost to go to his bullpen. Tim Hill came on to face pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman in a matchup that didn’t favor the lefty reliever on paper.
“I was a little hesitant in that spot because I knew without a doubt they were going to pinch-hit Grossman,” Yost said. “Grossman’s much better as a right-handed hitter. But Timmy is also a very high percentage ground-ball pitcher. Wanted to take my chances there on maybe getting a double play.”
Hill retired Grossman on a nice comebacker before striking out Joe Mauer and getting Eddie Rosario on a groundout to escape the inning. Reliever Wily Peralta came on in the ninth to earn his third save of the season and second in two days.
Gordon got the Royals on the board with a game-tying double down the left-field line in the fifth. It was Gordon’s 500th career extra-base hit, which ranks fifth on the club’s all-time list.