<
>

Royals prospects lead U.S. team to Futures Game win

PITTSBURGH -- If the All-Star Futures Game is any
indication, there's hope for the lowly Kansas City Royals.

A pair of their prospects, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, led the
United States to an 8-5 victory over the World team Sunday in the
eighth annual showcase for top minor leaguers.

Butler hit a two-run homer and singled to earn MVP honors.
Gordon added two RBI for a U.S. squad managed by Hall of Famer
Gary Carter, opening All-Star festivities at gorgeous PNC Park.

"The future to me looks bright for Kansas City, and I just want
to be a part of that," said Butler, a Double-A outfielder.

Perhaps he and Gordon, a highly touted third baseman, can soon
provide a boost for the struggling Royals, who closed the first
half with the AL's worst record at 31-56.

"I think we kind of push each other," Gordon said. "When
one's doing well, the other wants to step up and do as well as him,
too. We have a great competition going on. We're good friends.
Hopefully, we can stick together for a while and start something
good."

The MVP of last year's Futures Game in Detroit, first baseman
Justin Huber, is also in Kansas City's system at Triple-A Omaha.

"Whoever comes next year might be kind of nervous because of
the raised expectations," said Gordon, who grew up a Royals fan in
Nebraska. His younger brother, Brett, was named after former Royals
star George Brett.

Several talented youngsters have jumped quickly from this
showcase to the big leagues recently, including Detroit pitcher
Justin Verlander and Cleveland All-Star Grady Sizemore.

Colorado's Joe Koshansky also homered for the United States, and
former Oklahoma State quarterback Josh Fields showed he can play
some baseball, too.

Now a rising third base prospect with the World Series champion
Chicago White Sox, Fields doubled and scored, hit an RBI single and
drew a walk.

"The way you are going to get moved up in this organization is
to get it done," said Fields, batting .318 with 11 homers, 20
doubles, 38 RBI and a .400 on-base percentage at Triple-A
Charlotte.

San Diego catcher George Kottaras homered and doubled for a
World team managed by Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.
Power-hitting prospect Wladimir Balentien of the Seattle Mariners
had a pair of RBI doubles.

One of the most intriguing participants didn't even take a swing
or throw a pitch. Ria Cortesio, the only woman umpire currently
working in professional baseball, had a quiet -- but certainly
exciting -- afternoon at third base.

The World team went ahead in the second inning on consecutive
two-out doubles by Kottaras and Dodgers shortstop Chin Lung Hu off
winner Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds.

Fields doubled in the bottom half and Butler connected with two
outs off loser Jose Garcia of the Florida Marlins.

The U.S. squad took control with a five-run third, tagging
Toronto lefty Davis Romero.

"There are going to be negative performances, so I told them
they shouldn't dwell on that," Jenkins said. "This is just a good
experience, do better the rest of the year."

Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew, brother of Dodgers outfielder
J.D. and former Cleveland pitcher Tim, singled with one out and
scored on Gordon's single.

Houston outfielder Hunter Pence and Fields followed with RBI
singles, and Koshansky's two-run shot capped the outburst. The
slugging first baseman has 19 homers and 57 RBI with Double-A
Tulsa.

Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A reliever Josh Sharpless entered to a
nice ovation in the fifth and pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings.
Flashing a 99 mph fastball, Matt Lindstrom of the New York Mets
struck out two in the seventh and final inning for the save.

"I was floating out there. I never pitched in front of that
many people. I had a great time," Lindstrom said. "Those guys
told me how hard I was throwing. I didn't really realize it. I knew
I had something on it today."

The World team got back in the game by scoring three runs in the
fourth off Philip Hughes, the New York Yankees' top pitching
prospect.

Balentien hit a ringing RBI double and Kottaras followed with a
two-run homer to make it 7-4.

One out later, Hughes gave up a hard single back through the box
to 17-year-old outfielder Jose Tabata, also in the Yankees' system
and the youngest player in the Futures Game.

Gordon's RBI double in the bottom half made it 8-4.

Another run-scoring double by Balentien cut the margin to three
in the fifth, but Sharpless retired Hu with the bases loaded to end
the inning.