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Must C Clutch: Butler awarded walk-off home run

KANSAS CITY -- Who needs video replay on home runs? Not the umpires. All they have to do is check with Jeff Francoeur.

Francoeur knew immediately that Billy Butler's drive had cleared the left-field wall and was a home run that gave the Royals a 2-0 walk-off victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.

"I knew it was out," said Francoeur, on base with a one-out single. "When I rounded second and he went up, I just started jogging because the ball hit the seat and came screaming back. I got eyes like a hawk, man."

Even so, the umpires initially decided that Butler's ball, which bounced back onto the field was still in play. Butler got to second and apparently had a double and Hawk-Eye Francoeur had to be content holding at third base.

"I knew I had at least a double," said Butler, who teed off on a 3-1 pitch from left-hander Scott Downs. "It's tough to tell here with home runs, but they don't have the yellow line and the seats are right there and it bounces back a lot, so obviously you have to go off their call."

Royals manager Ned Yost jogged onto the field, confused as everyone else -- except for Francoeur, of course.

"I didn't know what it hit," Yost said. "I was just hoping it'd get out, I was hoping he [Bobby Abreu] wouldn't catch it. They played deep, and anything deep was going to get caught. It looked to me like it hit the screen and bounced back. I couldn't tell. So I ran out and told [third-base umpire] Fieldin Culbreth, 'I've got no stinkin' idea where that ball hit.' And he said, 'Don't worry about it, we're going to go do the right thing here. I'm not sure either, so we'll go check it.' "

Sure enough the umpires adjourned to a private viewing room under the stands to review the tap. A couple of minutes later, they came out and ...

"He took a second to signal and he definitely stone-faced it a little bit, so I didn't think he was going to signal," Butler said.

But the signal was home run, Francoeur dashed across the plate, and so did Butler, flinging his helmet in glee as the crowd of 12,022 exulted in the Royals' eighth walk-off victory this season. Butler got an immediate TV interview, a Gatorade shower and a shaving cream pie in the face from Hawk-Eye.

Across the field, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was resigned to defeat.

"The ball went over that green railing. If it skimmed the padding, that doesn't matter. It was a home run," he said.

It was a happy scene as the Royals celebrated winning two of three from the Angels, their first series win since New York on May 10-12.

The thing was, the game would not have been a scoreless tie into the ninth if it hadn't been for Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar.

"Escobar was spectacular defensively -- he saved the game for us twice," Yost said.

The first time came when starting pitcher Felipe Paulino needed to escape from a bases-loaded jam in the third inning. Paulino struck out Abreu, and Torii Hunter hit a shot at Escobar.

"It was right at him, but he smoked it," Yost said.

Escobar made the stop and threw to Chris Getz to start the inning-ending double play.

Again in the eighth the Angels loaded the bases after two outs. Alberto Callaspo's sharp grounder was into the shortstop hole, but Escobar drove across the grass, made the grab and got off a two-bounce throw that first baseman Eric Hosmer picked like an orange. By a blink, it was the third out.

Escobar is batting just .212 and Yost was asked if he'd keep him in the lineup with a .100 average.

"Absolutely, hit .100 and play the defense that he's playing," Yost said firmly.

Escobar has been spectacular all season, but Yost noted that the Royals' defense has scaled up markedly since Hosmer arrived to play first base on May 6.

"We were below the middle of the pack before we got Hoz, and since we got him we're continuing to creep up in the American League, defensive-wise, and now we're third or fourth," Yost said. "He's made a big difference for us defensively, along with Escobar, of course."

Before Butler's home run, of course, there were 8 1/2 innings with no scoring and, yes, the pitching was superb.

Paulino, reprising his shutout relief work at Texas last Friday night, made his first Royals start a five-inning, four-hit delight -- no walks and five strikeouts.

"The outing in Texas was in a hitter-friendly park, and he looked just like he did today -- dynamic slider, good fastball, throwing strikes, getting quick outs," Yost said.

When Paulino left, Greg Holland, another right-hander, arrived and went 2 2/3 innings and scorched the Angels with six strikeouts. No reliever has done that for the Royals since John Bale whiffed seven Yankees on Sept. 7, 2007.

Holland left with one on and two outs in the eighth. Relievers Everett Teaford and Louis Coleman each allowed a runner, jamming the bases, and Collins came on to escape with Escobar's help. Collins finished up with a perfect ninth and was rewarded with the win.

"Greg Holland was as good as I've ever seen him pitch and was as sharp as he could be. And Timmy Collins did a phenomenal job in a tough situation," Yost said. "I didn't really want to bring him in with the bases loaded there, but he got the job done."

Left in the dust was Angels starter Tyler Chatwood, who held the Royals scoreless on five hits for 7 2/3 innings. He was relieved by Downs, the victim of Butler's blow.

Butler really didn't know if his ball was gone.

"No, I definitely didn't, especially here," he said. "You never underestimate The K. It definitely swallows balls and keeps balls in the yard."

Not this time. Hawk-Eye saw it all the way.

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