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.
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.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press