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KC@BAL: Butler falls a single short of the cycle

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles gave away jersey T-shirts with pitcher Wei-Yin Chen's No. 16 and name in Mandarin on the back. Fans barely had a chance to slip into them before Chen gave away four runs to the Royals without getting a single out.

With Billy Butler belting three extra-base hits, including a three-run homer, the Royals and left-hander Will Smith dominated Baltimore, 8-2, on Thursday night at Camden Yards. It was the Royals' third straight victory and ended the Orioles' five-game streak.

Butler was just a single shy of hitting for the cycle, but his first-inning home run gave Smith some nice breathing room. And Smith's strong seven-inning performance followed back-to-back victories by Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie, and a solid outing by Luis Mendoza, all at Chicago.

It's been a rotation revelation.

"People look at it and say, 'What's going on?'" manager Ned Yost said. "But we feel like we have enough pitching to compete, but consistency has been an issue for us."

The Royals struck quickly against Wei-Yin Chen.

Alex Gordon took Chen's first pitch, then belted a 1-0 fastball over the right-field scoreboard in the general vicinity of the B&O Warehouse. It was the third time this season that Gordon has started a game with a home run for the Royals and the eighth time in his career.

"I was being aggressive. He's a strike-thrower and I wanted to be aggressive, and he gave me a good pitch to go on," Gordon said.

Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain each followed with a single to left field, bringing up Butler. On a 1-1 pitch from Chen, Butler put a three-run homer into the left-field seats, putting the Taiwanese-born left-hander in a 4-0 hole with no outs.

"He came out throwing fastballs and missed out over the plate some. We hit some balls hard and we found some holes," Butler said.

Chen retired Salvador Perez, but it proved a painful experience, a shot glancing off the pitcher's left leg to the second baseman. Chen stayed in the game and lasted until the fifth inning.

He gave up three doubles -- by Butler, Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur -- for two runs in the third inning. And in the fifth, Butler tripled and scored on Perez's sacrifice fly.

Ah yes, that triple by Butler. Now how did that happen? Butler is not exactly known for triple-style speed. Well, his looper to right field fell in front of diving Nick Markakis. Butler ignited whatever afterburners he possesses and slid into third base ahead of the throw while his teammates in the dugout were screaming.

"They were aware of what was going on, I wasn't," Yost said. "I go pitch-to-pitch and I had totally forgotten Billy had a homer and a double and now a triple leaves him a single from the cycle. But they didn't -- Moose and Frenchy were screaming, 'Go, Billy, go!'"

Or, as Gordon remarked drily: "When Billy gets a triple, the subject comes up. So we all knew."

There was reason behind Butler's daring dash.

"I knew there wasn't much chance for me to get a triple, if any, especially in a park like this. It's a smaller park, everybody knows that," Butler said. "[Markakis] dove and I was getting out of the box pretty good. When it got past him, I was going to try it because there was one out and we were up by 6-0. It was the perfect time to try for it and I made it."

Butler had two more chances to produce the Royals' seventh cycle in their history and the first since George Brett on July 25, 1990, at Toronto. But he struck out in the seventh against right-hander Matt Lindstrom and again in the ninth against Darren O'Day, a sidewheeling righty.

"I really didn't have much to hit. They pitched me tough. Lindstrom threw me really good sliders ... and O'Day is not somebody right-handers are going to have much success against at all," Butler said.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was not in the least surprised by Butler's performance which gave him a .458 (11-for-24) average with three homers and five RBIs against his club this year.

"Butler's one of the top five right-handed hitters in baseball. This guy is solid. You look at his track record," Showalter said. "I try not to feel like he's picking on us. We made some good pitches on him the last couple at-bats, but we made some mistakes on him, and good hitters are going to pounce on those."

Smith, a rookie, has been a very successful pitcher since being recalled from Triple-A Omaha for his second go-round in the rotation this season. This was the fifth start since his return and he's got a 3.94 ERA in those games, winning twice.

"The last time I was up here, things were moving too fast for me," Smith said. "I couldn't slow things down, but I went down to Triple-A and worked with Doug [Henry, pitching coach] on slowing the game down, and now it's a little easier when the crowd starts roaring when they're scoring a run."

It helped, too, that he had a four-run lead before throwing a pitch.

"It's always good to have a quick lead like that. It helps you lock in a little bit better and relax out there. It's nice," Smith said.

From the hitters, via Gordon, comes a back-at-you for the young pitcher: "When the starting pitcher goes out and throws a game like that, it kind of relaxes the offense."

Smith also got good help from his defense with Gordon throwing out Adam Jones at second base in the first inning, his eighth outfield assist, and Escobar contributing some outstanding plays.

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