KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Under the worst-case scenario, Game 2 of the World Series might have been Billy Butler's final home appearance in a Kansas City Royals uniform. But he did his part to postpone the offseason planning and try to ensure the World Series will return to Kauffman Stadium next week for a Game 6 and possibly a Game 7.
Butler asserted himself in a big way in Kansas City's 7-2, series-evening victory Wednesday night. First, he delivered an RBI single off San Francisco Giants starter Jake Peavy to pull the Royals even after Gregor Blanco's leadoff homer in the top of the first inning. Then he singled off reliever Jean Machi to drive in Lorenzo Cain and break a 2-2 tie in the sixth, spurring the Royals on to a five-run outburst against the San Francisco bullpen.
It was a gratifying evening for the man Kansas City fans fondly refer to as "Country Breakfast.'' Butler even popped out of the dugout after his second RBI hit and acknowledged the crowd of 40,446 with a wave.
"Guys were egging me on, but I definitely heard the crowd yelling my name,'' Butler said. "It was one of those things where if your teammates tell you to do it, you're going to get out there.''
Now that regular duty will soon give way to late-inning cameos, his opportunities to contribute are dwindling. Butler will take a seat for Games 3, 4 and 5 in San Francisco, when National League rules come into play and the designated hitter will be a mere figment of everyone's imagination.
The 2014 season will not go down as the most illustrious of Butler's eight-year run in Kansas City. He was power-deprived (a career-low .702 OPS and only nine home runs in 549 at-bats) and no bargain, with a base salary of $7.5 million, the fifth-biggest contract on the Royals' roster.
Come November, who knows? Butler has a $12.5 million contract option for 2015, and small-market teams with modest budgets don't have the luxury of hanging on to the past. Economic realities dictate that Kansas City management will decline Butler's option and exercise a $1 million buyout. Barring a major surprise, he will join free-agent-to-be James Shields on the "soon to be a former Royal'' list.
Butler concedes that he's a bit of a dinosaur at a time when a lot of teams prefer to use the DH slot as a parking place for several position players rather than one big dog. Worse yet, Butler slumped in the final month, hitting a soft .255 in September (14-for-55 with no homers) while the Royals were scrambling to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Still, his fellow Royals will tell you that Butler is a player they like to see come to the plate in a big spot. Butler drew a mere 41 walks in 151 games this season, and his 3.55 pitches per plate appearances were almost exactly the same as noted free swingers Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar. But when he's locked in with runners on base, he's usually going to force the pitcher to come to him.
"Billy is one of those guys who was born to hit,'' teammate Raul Ibanez said. "He works hard at his craft, and he cares a lot about it. He puts the bat on the ball and he stays up the middle and he stays the other way. He also knows how to slow the game down. I think that's one of his great assets.''
The coming games at AT&T Park are likely to be slower than usual given that Butler be watching them unfold almost entirely from a seat in the dugout. Realistically, the best he can expect is probably a late pinch-hit appearance against Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo or another right-handed option out of Bruce Bochy's pen. But something in Kansas City manager Ned Yost's gut tells him that Butler will have an opportunity to make an impact.
"Having a guy like Billy's bat on the bench is extremely valuable late in the game,'' Yost said. "You don't have to start the game to win the game.''
It's only natural that Butler might see his professional life flash before his eyes at this time of year, when every batting practice session and pregame introduction brings him one step closer to the end of his run in a Kansas City uniform. The frenetic pace of the postseason is a blessing in a way, because things are too chaotic for him to take a step back and be wistful.
So he'll enjoy the mania the Royals have created in Kansas City, continue to pull for his teammates and wait for his chance. And when the season is over and his employment status hits him smack in the face, he'll deal with the money and the contract questions.
In the meantime, the batter's box will be his sanctuary.
"This team is counting on me to do my job, and that's being an impact bat in the middle of the lineup,'' Butler said. "The other things will work out after the World Series. This is all I've ever known.''