In one instant, Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson was scurrying for a semiroutine fly. In the next, he was in a pure panic as the baseball became one with the sun.
Earlier in the game, he’d been able to squint through a “dark shadow” to salvage a catch. This time, all he could make out was that a ball was plummeting more or less his way.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “You can’t find it. You know it’s coming, you know it’s close. But you cannot find it.”
When it thudded to earth with two outs in the sixth inning Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, Oakland’s Josh Reddick had a triple that tied the game and enabled the A’s to take a 3-2 lead on Alberto Callaspo’s single.
And speaking of thudding to earth, the play muted the otherwise-constant buzz at Kauffman Stadium. It was the sort of goofy moment that might tend to test a tenuous believer in the Royals.
This first-place-in-August stuff is so unfamiliar, after all. Not just to a franchise that hasn’t been in this position since 2003 but to a generation-plus of fans who haven’t seen anything at all come to fruition since 1985.
Now, it’s true that there is a gathering energy and optimism around town that is bordering on giddiness about all this. But it’s no less true that even with that comes a certain hesitation to believe it’s safe to embrace where this is going, to assume there is no emotional quicksand waiting if you choose to give in.
Never mind that this particular Royals team has no true connection to that bleak past. Forget that it’s its own unique group, with its own strengths and weaknesses, yes, but none of which has a shred of tethering to the weight of history.
That doesn’t diminish the validity of any lingering skepticism, because Royals fans come by that as honestly as any fan base could. But if that’s a lingering albatross for some followers to unwrap themselves from, if it still feels fragile, it’s still independent of what’s happening on the field.
These Royals illustrated that just a little more vividly and convincingly Thursday.
Fully immersed in the crucible of a pennant race as the American League Central leaders, they shrugged off Dyson’s miscue and a seemingly demoralizing interference call on Alcides Escobar, tapped a reset button and dispensed with Oakland 7-3.
So they won their seventh series in a row and for the 18th time in 22 games and 10th in 11 tries. And they’ve done this against top-notch competition, beating the A’s and their best record in baseball five out of seven times in that span.
Perhaps most tellingly, though, they did it Thursday by getting over and past themselves some. The victory was a testament to resolve and poise that will have to define their makeup if the weeks ahead are to be anything more than a cruel taunt.
In this case, a lot of that was encapsulated in the form of Dyson. In his embarrassment after the play, he figured he had a couple choices of how this would go.
“Redeem myself or walk off the field,” he said. “Which one?”
Having opted to stay on the field, he vowed he would seize any chance to atone.
“Try to pick the team up,” he said. “Try to pick myself up as well.”
Dyson, whose quirky day included failing to get a bunt down earlier, got his chance at making up almost immediately. And he made good on it. With one out in the seventh, he singled home Lorenzo Cain to tie it 3-3 with his second RBI of the game. Then Dyson and Christian Colon scored on Nori Aoki’s triple. Then Aoki and Escobar scored on Billy Butler’s single.
And that was that for a team that’s 54-1 when leading after the seventh inning.
Then again, this was in a new context for these Royals. No matter how much they insist that last year’s late contention fortified them for this, they haven’t really been in this position before.
Maybe 2013 prepared them some. But it’s different to essentially be drafting off what’s in front of them and giving chase than to be at the top.
Different but not daunting. For the players, anyway.
At least not yet.
“We’re like boxer (Floyd) Mayweather in the ring,” Dyson said. “We never give up. We keep fighting.”
Now they’re into their fourth straight day in first place. There’s still plenty of time to wilt or melt, and surely there will be reasons to doubt again.
But by summoning the means to win this one, there’s also less reason by the day to think the dark shadows of the past will blot out the bright spots of the present.
“These guys,” Yost said, “are ready for this.”