ST. LOUIS -- Billy Butler saved the Royals in the ninth inning. Yuniesky Betancourt gave them the victory -- twice actually, in the 14th inning and again in the 15th. The second time it took.
Betancourt's two-run homer in the 15th for Kansas City dealt St. Louis a crushing defeat, 5-3, in a classic marathon on Sunday with relatively few of 41,680 fans remaining at Busch Stadium until, what was for Cardinals fans at least, the bitter end.
"It was like throwing jabs. We'd take a step forward and they'd fight right back," Butler said. "We'd get ahead again and they'd fight right back."
But Betancourt delivered a knockout punch and for Royals fans, the 5-hour triumph meant dominance in the wild and woolly first part of the I-70 Series, two games to one. Part 2 will be next weekend at Kansas City.
"The way the guys played today was unbelievable," winning pitcher Jonathan Broxton said. "To battle and grind it all day like that."
It was finally decided after Jarrod Dyson bunted safely to begin the Royals' 15th and was bunted to second by Brayan Pena. Alex Gordon flied out, but Betancourt hammered Eduardo Sanchez's 0-1 delivery into the left-field bullpen to decide the matter.
Just one inning before, Gordon drew his fifth walk and Betancourt sent him home by belting a double off Sanchez to take a 3-2 lead.
"I had the opportunity to put the team ahead twice. I was doing my best and it happened," Betancourt said.
The RBI double came on a slider so, in the next inning, Betancourt figured Sanchez would stay away from that pitch and go with a fastball. He was right.
"Sometimes pitchers will think they can sneak one by you, but the fact that I hit the slider for a double set him up for that fastball," Betancourt said.
That at-bat wouldn't even have happened if Broxton had been able to stifle the Cardinals in the 14th. But he walked Craig to start the inning and Adron Chambers singled up the middle, sending Craig to third. Tyler Greene lined out to center fielder Dyson and Craig, strangely enough, held at third. However, pinch-hitter Yadier Molina lined a single to left for a 3-3 tie. No save for Broxton.
When Betancourt homered, Broxton was ready for a chance to redeem himself.
"It was a no-brainer to send him back out," Yost said. "He was champing at the bit to go back out."
Broxton responded with two strikeouts and a groundout to end it.
"We've got nobody else really," Broxton said. "You've just got to grab the bull by the horns and go out and ride him. And we got him all the way rode this time."
After the Cardinals surged ahead, 2-1, on back-to-back home runs by Matt Holliday and Craig in the sixth inning, the Royals were one strike away from defeat in the ninth. Out of the dugout came Butler, riding the bench in this DH-less series.
"We didn't want to leave Billy's bat out of the game," manager Ned Yost said. "I wanted to take a shot with Billy and dadgum if he didn't hit a homer."
Sure did and off a two-strike fastball against the Cardinals' hard-throwing closer, Jason Motte.
"I was just trying to get the bat through the zone, especially when a guy throws a 98-mph fastball," Butler said. "Be as quick as possible and hope that something good happens."
That something good was the ball soaring 438 feet over the left-field bullpen for a 2-2 tie.
"I was going for the strikeout, trying to throw it by him," Motte said. "I threw the same pitch as the one that he swung at the pitch before."
Butler's drive cast a sudden silence on the red-hued assemblage next to the Arch and the Mississippi River, but there was a lot more baseball to come, six innings worth in fact.
"This game had so many stories on so many different levels today," Yost said.
That it did. Royals starter Luis Mendoza pitched five shutout innings before Holliday and Craig hit their back-to-back homers in the sixth. Reliever Tim Collins threw three perfect innings, the 10th, 11th and 12th.
Pitcher Bruce Chen, batting for Collins in the 13th, singled for the first pinch-hit by a Royals pitcher in franchise history. Gordon's five walks tied his own club record for one game. Butler's pinch-hit homer was the first of his career.
Both benches were depleted. Pitchers were pinch-hitting and pinch-running. The bullpens were nearly empty.
"I've never been through a game like that where you don't have any players left, you don't have any pitchers left," Yost said. "You're just scrapping to get by and you end up winning it."
All this came as the conclusion of a crazy series. Included was a Cardinals runner getting thrown out trying to score from first base on two errant throws, sealing the Royals' 3-2 win on Friday night. Then there was a Cardinals' triple play reversed in the first inning of their 10-7 win on Saturday.
But the 15-inning marathon was the topper. An exhausted-looking Yost was asked if he could sum up the game.
"I don't even know if I could," Yost said. "We won, that's all I can say."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.