CLEVELAND -- His knees caked in dirt and his face shining with perspiration, Billy Butler made the universal sign for "safe." He had just been cut down at third base attempting to advance from first. The call on the field was wrong, Butler communicated to the Royals dugout in the fifth inning of a 7-3 loss to the Indians on Saturday, and replay would vindicate him.
Royals manager Ned Yost caught the signal. He took a few steps onto the diamond, turned to bench coach Don Wakamatsu and waited for word from the team's video room. After a few moments, Yost received the verdict. The call on the field was accurate, and Yost returned to his post.
Butler looked perplexed. Already he had found himself demoted in the lineup due to a brief slump. Now he gathered himself and made the lonely walk back to the dugout. His lack of speed hampered the team's chances at a rally in that frame. An inning later, he struck out with runners at the corners as the team attempted to climb back into the contest. During a last-ditch run in the eighth, he stranded two more.
The Royals (45-41) required all the offensive help it could access on Saturday. Jeremy Guthrie supplied his weakest performance since a seven-run implosion in Seattle on May 11. This time, he departed with no outs in the fifth and yielded six runs. He recorded 12 outs and allowed 13 men on base.
The onslaught proved too sizable for Kansas City to match. Lorenzo Cain opened the game with a double, swiped third off former teammate George Kottaras and scored on Eric Hosmer's grounder. From there, the offense quieted, save for a squashed rally in the sixth and Danny Valencia's solo homer in the seventh.
Butler notched a pair of singles off lefty T.J. House, which should be enough to keep him in Sunday's lineup for the series finale. Yost had hinted he would consider using new addition Raul Ibanez as the designated hitter in Butler's place against right-hander Corey Kluber.
Yost cherishes consistency. For weeks he has ignored Eric Hosmer's ongoing stagnation and continued to pencil him into the upper third of the batting order. Yet on Saturday he felt compelled to alter his lineup. Salvador Perez replaced Butler in the No. 3 spot. Butler fell to the six-hole.
Yost executed the switch despite the recent winning. No longer could he watch Perez crack hits with the bases empty. No longer could he watch Butler strand his teammates. Asked what he had seen lately from Butler, who entered Saturday with one hit in his previous 19 at-bats, Yost said "Nothing."
"He just got in a funk, you know?" Yost said, adding, "He was really swinging the bat good until we went on this road trip. He was doing fine."
Indeed, he was. In June Butler posted a .811 on-base plus slugging percentage, which was better than his overall output in 2013 (.787 OPS) and within striking distance of his production in 2011 (.822).
"I still feel he's capable of being the Billy that we've had," Yost said. "He hasn't really been."
The Indians dogged Guthrie at the start, forcing him to throw 43 pitches in the first two innings, and victimized him with a three-run spurt in the third. Michael Bourn tied the game by muscling a fastball on the hands over the right-field wall. The baseball landed a few inches out of reach from Lorenzo Cain's leap.
Michael Brantley singled two batters later. Facing former All Star Jason Kipnis, Guthrie floated a curveball on the outer half of the plate. Kipnis smashed an RBI double. Lonnie Chisenhall dumped an RBI single into shallow left to increase the Royals' deficit.
After Butler's blunder in the top of the frame, Guthrie combusted in the bottom of the fifth. Carlos Santana and Kipnis ripped singles. Up 1-2 on Chisenhall, Guthrie missed the upper outside corner of the plate on three consecutive pitches.
The walk loaded the bases. Nick Swisher cleared some traffic with a two-run single. He also booted Guthrie from the game, assuring him of his shortest outing in 2014.
Michael Brantley capped the scoring for Cleveland with an RBI single in the eighth off Royals reliever Louis Coleman. The Royals attempted to mount a comeback in the ninth. Danny Valencia started the inning with a single, and advanced to second on a single by Alcides Escobar. A wild pitch by Indians reliever Cody Allen advanced Valencia to third before Jarrod Dyson drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.
Lorenzo Cain struck out and Eric Hosmer grounded into a double play, ending the game.
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