KANSAS CITY -- How many times has Ned Yost seen a game turn on Billy Butler's speed? The Royals' manager had to laugh.
"Not many," Yost said, "but I'm glad it did today."
That's exactly what happened as Butler, who plods like a plow horse, twice hustled to beat potential third-out plays during the Royals' eighth-inning rally that pulled them past the Washington Nationals, 6-4, on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. The victory ended the Royals' seven-game skid as well as the Nationals' five-game winning streak.
Nationals reliever Craig Stammen was entrusted with a 4-4 tie and got two outs in the eighth before walking Eric Hosmer. Up came Butler, who hit a sharp grounder that bounced off and away from first baseman Adam LaRoche.
"At first, I just kind of stood there and thought, 'I hit it hard again but it's right at him at first.' So I thought for sure I'm out," Butler said. "But then when I saw it ricochet off, I ran hard to the bag. The reason I thought I was out was I wasn't even out of the box yet when the ball got to him."
Meanwhile, Stammen moved belatedly to cover first base.
"I just froze," Stammen said. "When it bounced away, I was like, 'Go after the ball or go to the base?' Obviously, I needed to go to the base."
"That's what cost them," Butler said. "The pitcher is supposed to get over there. They'd have had me, I don't run very well. All I could do was run hard and I beat him."
LaRoche probably had time to get the slow-running Butler himself but wasn't real sure where the ball went.
"It was a cue shot from a righty. It's not something you can work on," LaRoche said. "Initially, I thought it kicked more towards the bag. I look back and it's headed toward the opposite direction. That was a big play. It would have got us out of the inning."
But Butler was safe. Now Yost had to wrestle with a decision of his own. Should he lift Butler for a pinch-runner?
"If we don't score, then Billy's bat is out of the lineup and we'll surely come back around," Yost said. "If it's the ninth, it's a no-brainer. But in the eighth, it's a bit more difficult situation."
So he let Butler run for himself. Stammen walked Mike Moustakas to load the bases and Salvador Perez hit a sharp bouncer to shortstop Ian Desmond. He bobbled the ball, then went for a forceout at third base -- where Butler was headed.
"My heart kind of sunk there for a minute," Yost confessed. "As soon as it was hit and I saw him going to third, I'm thinking maybe I should have pinch-ran for him there."
Never mind -- Butler beat Desmond's toss to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
"I saw it hit the ground on my second step," Butler said. "I knew that potentially his only play might be to third so I was digging. On a ball like that, you don't usually see a guy try to throw to third for a forceout. I didn't know he bobbled it, but when it hit the ground, I was getting after it as hard as I could."
Hosmer scored the go-ahead run and the crowd of 19,661 went bananas. Perez was credited with an RBI single on the tiebreaking play.
"I knew I hit it pretty good but as soon as I saw to the right side, I thought I had a chance," Perez said. "Billy did a good job of running the bases hard."
David Lough then singled sharply to right field and Butler chugged home with an insurance run. Moustakas was thrown out trying to score on the same play, but the Royals had a two-run lead.
Closer Greg Holland pitched past two Nationals singles in the ninth inning, and the Royals' skid was over.
"We haven't had any breaks go our way the last week and we had a few today," Holland said.
The Royals jumped on right-hander Dan Haren for four runs in the first inning. Alex Gordon led off with a home run and Perez followed Moustakas' single with a two-run blast. In between, Emilio Bonifacio walked and sped all the way from first base to score as Hosmer's single bounced away from Desmond.
"That's part of my game and when we're not scoring runs, we have to find a way somehow," Bonifacio said.
Royals starter Ervin Santana gave up a fourth-inning solo homer to Desmond but otherwise kept control of the Nationals -- until there were two out in the seventh. Denard Span belted a home run, Zimmerman doinked a single and Bryce Harper ripped a two-run homer to left field for a 4-4 tie.
Santana survived a wicked shot to his right hip off Span's bat in the third inning, staying in the game after some tense moments while he shook off the pain.
"He threw the ball really well," Yost said. "I hated that he ended up giving up the tying runs so he didn't get the benefit of getting the win."
Kelvin Herrera took over and got through 1 1/3 scoreless innings and was rewarded with the victory when Holland notched his 35th save.
The victory enabled the Royals to go one game above .500 at 65-64.
"It's huge. You can't compete until you can win more games than you lose," Yost pointed out.
Now that the streaky Royals have ended this seven-game skid, they're yearning to start another winning burst.
"Especially this late in the season, if we want to make a run at this thing, we have to win some in a row again," Butler said.
"It feels good to get back on track," Hosmer said. "We still have the same goals in mind. We're going to finish strong and continue to come out and play it out. We've seen crazier things happen."
Like Butler winning a game with his speed.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.