The self-proclaimed fan wore a blue pullover and idled at the base of the dugout steps. Ned Yost occupied a prime vantage point for the latest lukewarm offensive exhibition by the Royals, a nightly crucible for both those following this baseball club and those steering it.
To Yost, the gap between the two factions is narrower than might be expected. He manages the team, but in the hours before a 3-2 victory over Minnesota, he cast himself as helpless as the 20,747 rooters gathered at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday.
“I bang my head against the wall all the time,” Yost said. “I’m like the fans. I’m a fan. Once the game starts, I’m basically a fan. I’m rooting. ‘Come on, let’s go. Get some guys on base, get some guys in.’”
In the sixth inning, after two hours of hapless hitting, he got his wish with his team trailing 1-0. Omar Infante stroked a single to left. Salvador Perez knotted the score with a booming double. In command all evening, Twins starter Phil Hughes promptly unraveled: He yielded RBI doubles to Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas to allow the Royals (54-52) to claim the lead and an eventual victory.
“We know we haven’t been swinging the bats well,” Gordon said. “But a win’s a win.”
The outburst was too late to aid the cause of starter Danny Duffy, who departed with two outs in the sixth. But the outburst allowed the Royals to draw even with Minnesota in this three-game set.
Duffy sprayed the baseball around during 5 2/3 innings, and matched a career-high with six walks. Still he steadied when necessary. He limited the Twins to a lone run, courtesy of Josh Willingham’s homer in the second.
“If this would have happened a few years ago, I probably would have gone four (innings),” Duffy said. “We grinded through it.”
In the seventh, the bullpen gave back a run. Scott Downs gave up a leadoff double, and Kelvin Herrera let the next two Twins single. Herrera recovered to fan All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier and then Willingham. His fastball blazed into triple digits in each at-bat. “He created a little bit of excitement there but held the fort when he needed to,” Yost said.
With a victory on Thursday, the Royals would exit this homestand with five in seven games. They must maintain this pace to push for October. And they must rely upon the players already gathered inside their clubhouse, general manager Dayton Moore emphasized.
The non-waiver trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Thursday. The team has committed itself to finding improvements in the outfield, bullpen and starting rotation. Even so, Moore does not expect to unearth a panacea.
“There’s no one player, or multiple players, that we can get that’s all of a sudden just going to make this team explode,” Moore said. “These guys have got to get it done.”
At times, the lineup appears incapable of restraint. On Tuesday, sophomore right-hander Kyle Gibson throttled them for seven innings and needed only 95 pitches to do so. Hughes required 70 to complete five innings before wilting.
“It was a grind,” Gordon said. “We just had that one big inning.”
The output the past two days exposed a deficiency that may sunder Kansas City’s dwindling playoff hopes. Heading into Wednesday’s game, the club ranked last in the majors in walks. They also struck out less often than any other team. The dichotomy indicates a propensity for overeager swings, a quality Yost insisted was not intentional.
“No, it’s not by design!” he said before the game. “It’s what it is.”
The lineup features hitters who are aggressive by nature. Yost referenced the youth of the group, and mentioned how patience is more common “with the more veteran teams, the more veteran hitters.” He also stressed how difficult it is to alter a style midway through the season, when the stress of competition overrides all else.
“You wait it out,” he said. “I know people are tired of hearing about waiting it out, but there’s nothing you can do. You can’t yell. You can’t scream. You can’t demand that they take more pitches. They play their game.”
KC’s style clashes with the style of others. Yost referenced the philosophy of the Athletics, the princes of the American League West. Like Kansas City, which will visit O.co Coliseum this weekend, Oakland operates under budget constraints. Yet its offense hums.
The Athletics ranked fifth in the majors in on-base plus slugging percentage before Wednesday’s games began. The Royals resided in 22nd place.
“Oakland, their whole organization is built around the walk, on-base percentage,” Yost said. “They target those guys.”
What about the Royals?
“We target athletic guys,” Yost said, a combination of speed, defensive agility and, yes, the ability to get on base. Moore listed Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer and Gordon as the three crucial contributors capable of improving their production. The team witnessed the group jell during June’s 10-game winning streak.
Like a fan, like all of the frustrated masses, Yost says he hopes for that level of play to return.
For a brief moment on Wednesday, the players fulfilled his hope.