During the days after Oct. 29, 2014, Royals manager Ned Yost returned to his home in Georgia and attempted to embark on a typical offseason. He hunted deer. He tended his farm. He hung with his close friend, comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Not once, Yost says, did he sit and watch footage from the World Series.
“We didn’t win,” Yost said on Sunday morning. “What’s to enjoy?”
Nearly five months removed from game seven of the World Series, the bitterness has not yet departed. The feeling may never subside, say players on the Royals, members of their coaching staff and executives in the front office. Sunday served as an artificial reminder of those memories, as the Giants visited Surprise Stadium for the first game of a home-and-home set that concludes Monday at Scottsdale Stadium.
The Royals managed to avoid Madison Bumgarner, something they would have preferred to happen last October. Bumgarner, the World Series MVP, pitched in a split-squad game at his home park. The Royals instead faced a right-hander named Chris Heston and won 4-2.
The significance of the actual game was trivial. Yost insisted he was unaware of the impeding rematch until a few days before. Before it began, Yost indicated his lone concern was applying the proper amount of sunscreen.
“I just hope I can not get too sunburned,” Yost said. “That’s my thought. It’s spring training.”
The Royals captured the imagination of the baseball-viewing public last fall. They boasted a brand of baseball that had apparently vanished from October. Their performance made a lasting impression, even if they fell short of their goal.
Eric Hosmer compared the experience to the 2008 Home Run Derby. Few recall Justin Morneau actually won the event. What registers is Josh Hamilton’s 28-homer binge in the first round.
“He hit a million homers, and no one remembers he didn’t win,” Hosmer said, adding, “Everyone remembers us. But we didn’t win it.”
The knowledge gnawed at this group all winter. Jarrod Dyson compared the sensation with a breakup. “I don’t know this feeling, when a woman gets her heart broken, but (darn) it, that’s how it felt,” Dyson said. “Just like that. Like we just got dumped on a date.”
It was this conviction that made the final loss so difficult to swallow. The club had already overcome such an immense obstacle in the Wild Card game. By coming back from a four-run deficit in the eighth inning against Oakland ace Jon Lester, the players instilled in themselves a faith that anything was possible. They carried that belief into the World Series.
On Sunday afternoon, Yost narrated his thought process during the final outing. He watched Alex Gordon crack a two-out hit and advance to third on a fielding error. With Salvador Perez, who notched the winning RBI against the Athletics, at the plate, Yost figured the outcome was academic. Then he watched Bumgarner force Perez to lift a harmless pop fly.
“It was kind of like you got punched right between the eyes on a pop-up,” Yost said. “And you see (Pablo) Sandoval laying on the ground. You’re like ‘What happened?’ It’s like ‘Wait, wait. What happened? We were supposed to win this game!’”
During the winter, Yost wondered when he would get over the defeat. Maybe it will take a week, he thought. Maybe two weeks. Maybe a month. The length of time kept expanding until he realized the truth.
“It never got better,” Yost said. “When you come that close, and you have to go all the way back and start again? You’re right there. I mean, you’re right there. You can touch it. And then all of a sudden, it’s light years away again. I don’t think that ever goes away, that feeling that, man, you’re there, and you couldn’t quite accomplish it.”
What impressed Yost was his players felt the same way.
“It was funny, because all winter long, I was really proud of what we accomplished,” Yost said. “But I was nowhere near satisfied with what we accomplished. And when I got here, I found out every player in that room shared the same sentiment.
“And there has not been one time, for the first time in spring training ever, that I’ve had to stop a drill and say ‘OK, let’s get focused.’ They are tremendously focused. They are doing all their drills. They go through it with a lot of intensity and a lot of focus, and a lot of energy.
“Because they know how close they came last year. And they want to get back. They are more focused than I’ve ever seen them as a group. And they’re more confident than I’ve ever seen them as a group.”
From The Star
1. The Royals sent Brandon Finnegan to the minors to work as a starter.
2. Here is your daily video dispatch from Royals camp.
Here is some rock music
“The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand” by Matt Pond.