"I think John Buck was the hero tonight. His at-bat right before Alex hit the double changed the game right there," Bannister said. "He fought off some tough pitches, took some tough pitches and that changed the game."
This was in the fourth inning against Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson. Mark Grudzielanek and Ross Gload had singled around two outs. Now Buck came to the plate in a scoreless game.
Ten pitches later, he was trotting to first base with a walk.
"He kept throwing borderline pitches. They seemed too close to take. He was either sinking them so they'd end up being further out, or cutting them. It seemed like he wasn't throwing anything straight," Buck said.
"I just kept fouling off those borderline pitches and I ended up taking probably the closest one."
On a full count, Buck fouled off four consecutive pitches and then took an inside fastball.
"That was an amazing at-bat," Gordon said.
Up came Gordon, who had batted nine times previously with the bases loaded. Result: 0-for-7 with one walk and one sacrifice fly for two runs.
"Not too good, huh?" he said. "You give up the past and just go for the future and the present. It's probably a little bit better this time."
Gordon got that right. His line drive into the right-field corner went for a double and cleared the bases.
In the next inning, Grudzielanek drove in Esteban German with a single. Butler came up and drove his sixth home run just over the left-field wall for a 6-1 Royals lead.
Robertson was done. So were the Royals. Reliever Jason Grilli retired all 11 batters he faced. Even so, those six runs held up because the Tigers used the infield as a vast parking lot.
They had 16 hits and got a couple walks, but left 13 runners on base.
"I would say [it's] freaky," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "If you get 16 hits, you should have more than three runs. If you hit a ground ball to second base, you should have more than three runs."
Oh, you'd sure think so. But Bannister kept dancing the light fantastic. For example, in the fifth inning the Tigers had scored once and had runners at first and third. Timo Perez rapped a bouncer back to Bannister who couldn't make a clean grab, eliminating a double-play chance. Bannister, an ex-infielder, quickly fired home to retire the fleet Curtis Granderson.
"Communication helped, too, and I'm sure that Banny knew what he had to do when he bobbled the ball. His only shot was at first or at home," manager Buddy Bell said.
"I could hear half the team yelling 'Home!' on that play."
Two outs later the Tigers had left the bases loaded. When Bannister departed after six innings, he'd given up 11 hits and a walk, but forced the Tigers to strand 10 runners.
Relievers Joel Peralta, Jimmy Gobble and Joakim Soria finished the job. The Tigers did add a run against Soria in the ninth, but that was it.
"I think we did a pretty good job," Peralta said. "They got guys on base and we got double plays."
Yep, Peralta induced one and Gobble the other.
"We were living on the edge all night long because they got 16 hits but sometimes you've got to give the pitchers credit for making the pitches that they have to," Bell said.
This was a rare victory for the Royals against the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. In the 15 previous games, the Tigers won 14.
This time they arrived fresh off a 16-0 victory over the Yankees in which they pounded 20 hits.
"You can tell they're locked in. They're hitting, one through nine, and our pitching just did a great job of keeping them on the bases and not letting them score," Butler said.
"The game could've easily changed quick with as many runners as they had."