Sam Mellinger

Amid a wild Royals season, Ned Yost stays the course

Updated: 2013-08-23T23:02:53Z

By Sam Mellinger

The Kansas City Star

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Royals were not shaking hands after a game at Kauffman Stadium. Remember when it felt like the opposite? Remember when we all expected the worst, were surprised by the best?

So much has changed this season. The Royals have been awful and then passable and more recently terrific. Fans have thrown things at their TVs and more recently come to games to stand and cheer. Up turned to down, stink to roses.

The Royals lost Tuesday night, 1-0 to the Marlins in 10 innings. It was a wild night. A 21-year-old Cuban named Jose Fernandez dominated the Royals for seven innings, but a 36-year-old Panamanian named Bruce Chen did the same to the Marlins.

In the end, the Marlins won when a fastball by Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera caught too much of the plate, and Christian Yelich slipped it into right field. That scored Jake Marisnick, who reached base when an 0-2 pitch hit him — sort of.

“Just nipped him in the shirt,” Royals manager Ned Yost says.

And that’s about it. More than 20,000 fans came out in the middle of the week, including more than 6,000 who bought their tickets Tuesday. Kansas City has gone from cussing this team to cheering it, from forgetting about this team to believing in it.

And through every pitch and every inning and every game and every incredible streak, Yost has been the same guy. Encouraging. Prickly. Consistent.

These Royals, in addition to capturing Kansas City’s attention in a way unseen in a decade, are so far defined by two enormous and overwhelming streaks. You remember May, when the Royals could not have beaten an egg. And you know about them now, the best team in the American League since the All-Star break.

Baseball people love to talk about their seasons being defined by streaks, but the sport hasn’t seen a team this streaky in years.

The Royals lost all but four of 23 games in May. They won all but four of their last 21.

No team has been that bad and this good in the same season since Oakland in 2005. Back when Barry Zito was still good.

The Royals fired two hitting coaches, replaced them with two others, and now have just one. Sal Perez took breaks to move his mother from Venezuela after a death in the family and another for a concussion. Mike Moustakas was inept for months and now has a higher slugging percentage than David Ortiz’s since the All-Star break. Eric Hosmer was an underperforming singles hitter and now more hits than all but two players in the league since the break.

Fans have screamed for Yost’s job, and his boss’s job. They have mocked him for batting Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar too high, crushed him for pulling James Shields after eight innings in May — and now cheer his team for rising into a legitimate, honest-to-goodness playoff hunt.

Through it all, Yost has been, basically, the same guy. Unfailing encouragement for his players. Occasional prickly answers for reporters. Consistent calm in the dugout.

“Nothing’s changed,” catcher George Kottaras says.

“Same guy,” pitcher Ervin Santana says.

“I see the same thing,” designated hitter Billy Butler says.

Yost has had a few moments, of course. The third-baseman-tree rant is particularly memorable, when he said he’s “never been wrong on one of these kids I’ve had conviction with.”

Otherwise, he sat through news conference after news conference, answering question after question about, basically, why his team stunk so bad and why he wasn’t throwing chairs.

We just need to keep encouraging them, he said a thousand times.

Now, he sits through news conference after news conference, answering question after question about, basically, why his team is so suddenly awesome and when this little streak is going to end.

The guys are having fun, he’s saying just about every day now.

It is an unnatural evenness, especially for a big league manager, and is essentially a product of what happened in Milwaukee, when he was fired with 12 games left in 2008 with the Brewers on a skid but still tied for the wild card.

He’s thought about that moment a million times, many of them on his tractor back home in Georgia. There were times he got too emotional during the losing. That was his competitiveness, but to some it was perhaps interpreted as cracking. Never again.

Yost vowed that he would be different if he got another chance. He had one slipup, if you can even call it that. In New York, the Royals gave up a two-run lead in the eighth inning. The night before, they had lost in 11 innings. The Royals were in a stretch of 44 games in as many days. The bullpen was taxed. So Yost got a little ticked, right there in the dugout, breaking that promise to himself — however slightly.

Perhaps that moment sticks out because of the context, because Yost has otherwise been so relentlessly even.

All around him, chaos. Franchise cornerstones who were like kids now hit like All-Stars. Calls for his job have turned to cheers. A devastating slide into last place now balanced by an inspired rise into a playoff race. Through it all the manager has been the same encouraging, prickly, consistent self.

Nobody knows for sure how much that’s meant, only that it’s been one of the few points of steadiness in one of the wildest seasons in recent baseball history.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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