07/21/07 12:35 AM ET
Butler lifts Royals past Tigers
Young DH collects four hits, knocks in four runs in win
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
KC won its third straight game and improved to 4-3 on the current nine-game road trip through Cleveland, Boston and Detroit -- arguably the three top teams in baseball
"We are playing great," Meche said.
Everything started with Meche. The ace and All-Star halted a stretch of two consecutive mediocre starts and rebounded with his longest outing since June 15. He tossed seven innings of two-run ball en route to winning his third straight decision -- and his first quality start in three outings.
"I thought that was the best Gil has thrown in awhile," manager Buddy Bell said. "He had great tempo and good stuff."
Meche's new routine formed the backbone for his seventh win this season. In his last few starts, Meche has cruised through the first few innings and labored the rest of the game. The problem intensified in his past two outings, during which he allowed 10 earned runs in 11 innings.
Meche tossed scoreless ball in the first three innings of both games and allowed all the runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. He decided to stop long tossing before starts and do his entire warm-up in the bullpen.
This time, Meche had plenty left in the seventh inning, and tossed a season-high 119 pitches. Only one run scored in his last six innings.
"It helped a ton," he said. "Obviously in the seventh inning, it definitely helped to have a little bit extra in my arm, and that's something that I have not been having. I have been getting tired here pretty quickly."
Facing the best offense -- and the team with the best record -- in the Majors, Meche permitted just five hits and rarely worked into trouble. After Gary Sheffield blasted a solo homer in the first, Meche didn't allow another run until the sixth. He evaded several jams, including one in the second inning, when he worked around a leadoff double by Carlos Guillen.
"The biggest thing for me is I was just getting ahead," he said. "I was getting two strikes really quick, and when you get to that point, you get some fastballs by some people in the zone."
A tremendous curveball helped, too.
"He threw me the best curveball I've ever seen in my life," the Tigers' Brandon Inge said. "I just looked out at him and said, 'Wow.'"
"Wow" can aptly describe Butler's recent stretch. His first career four-hit game propelled Butler to a four-RBI night and continued his torrid second half. In his last 22 games, Butler is batting .373 (28-for-75) with 21 RBIs -- including a .481 average and 11 RBIs in the second half of the season.
Nothing has changed for Butler.
"Guys like that basically take the same approach, whether there is a guy on or there is a guy in scoring position," Bell said. "All the good RBI guys seem to approach their at-bats the same way as Billy. There is no difference."
It started in the first inning. Butler's RBI groundout drove home Mark Grudzielanek -- the first of four runs scored by the Royals second baseman.
With the game tied at 1 in the third, Butler hit a bases-loaded single to center that scored two runs. When Curtis Granderson's throw skipped away from catcher Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Teahen scored.
The Royals tallied two more in the seventh inning. Back-to-back doubles by Esteban German and Grudzielanek netted one run, and Butler's third single of the night drove in the next run.
"I get a pitch, I am not missing it right now," Butler said. "If I miss that one pitch, then I might not get another one."
And the Royals (42-53) missed very few pitches. They tacked on four more ninth-inning runs and moved 11 games under the .500 mark for the first time since May 25. Coupled with a White Sox loss, KC moved within one game of fourth place. April 6 marked the last time KC wasn't in last place.
But great pitching and hitting could catapult them out of the cellar very quickly.
"Things are going good," Grudzielanek said.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.