KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Billy Butler knows the task ahead of him, plain and simple.
"I need to start carrying the load a little more," he said. "That’s why I’m in the middle of the lineup."
Mission accomplished Wednesday night after Butler delivered a sacrifice fly that produced the go-ahead run in a 3-1 win over the White Sox.
The victory helped the Royals avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox, and also gave the Royals a winning homestand at 5-4.
"I’ve said that until we start getting consistent offense," manager Ned Yost said, "we need to just keep our heads above water. We’re doing that."
The winning rally started when Nori Aoki laid down a perfect bunt with two strikes that allowed him to reach first with one out in the eighth inning. Alcides Escobar followed with a double. After an intentional walk to Eric Hosmer, Butler delivered after falling down in the count 0-2, and poked a fly deep enough to right to plate Aoki.
"I took the same swing that I did earlier in the count," Butler said. "I think I just got a better pitch to hit."
— Aoki comes through. Aoki had a clutch, two-out RBI in the third that tied the score 1-1. With Pedro Ciriaco on second — and Ciriaco did a nice job of beating out an infield hit to reach base — Aoki slapped a single through the hole between short and third. Ciriaco’s speed easily got him going. And, of course, Aoki got things going in the eighth with that two-strike bunt.
"They’ve been telling him to do that for a while now," Butler said. "I hear Pedro (Grifol) and him talk about it."
Aoki said through his interpreter that it was the first time in his baseball career — in Japan and here — that he has ever bunted with two strikes.
— Real Guts was on. Jeremy Guthrie gave the Royals seven strong innings when they needed it most. Guthrie gave up just three hits and one run, walking two and striking out two. And the run should never have happened. See below.
"He deserved a scoreless outing," Yost said. "He was very good tonight."
Guthrie said his mindset was to keep the homer-happy White Sox in the yard.
"That’s always my mindset," he said. "I always want to get wins and not give up homers. But I’ve given up 12 homers and I got two wins. Guess I’m not doing that well at it."
— Danny’s patience. Danny Valencia, trying to take the full-time third-base job away from Mike Moustakas, put in a good at-bat in the eighth that produced a run. With the bases loaded against Jake Petricka, you know Valencia was itching to drive the ball to the gap. But instead of swinging wildly at anything close, Valencia was patient and eventually waited out a walk. That forced in the Royals’ third run.
"That was a very patient and good at-bat," Yost said. "When we can get a tack-on run for Holly (Greg Holland), we feel we’re in really good shape."
— Rough night for Ciriaco. While he played a decent game Tuesday night, Ciriaco had his troubles Wednesday. First, he threw wildly on a rather routine double-play turn (though he did have bulky Adam Dunn bearing down on him) in the second inning that led to the White Sox run. Alexei Ramirez hit the double-play ball but instead reached first on the wild throw, stole second and scored on Paul Konerko’s well-placed pop fly to left center.
Ciriaco also killed a rally in the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, Ciriaco went after the first pitch and hit a soft tap back to the mound that resulted in a 1-2-3 double play. The Royals didn’t get another base runner until Aoki’s bunt single in the eighth.
— No luck for Hayes. Catcher Brett Hayes continued his oh-fer. He is now 0 for 22 this season. His last hit came in the 2013 season finale against the White Sox — a two-run homer off Jose Quintana, who happened to be pitching Wednesday. This time, though, Hayes hit two weak grounders and a weak popup.
— Nitpicking on Hoz. OK, there really weren’t three "downs" from this win. But it was noticeable that Hosmer was back to muscling up on some of his swings. That was especially true in the second inning when he came up with two on and two out. He grounded out easily to first. But, hey, that is nitpicking on this night.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.