Contrary to concerns about what it might wreak upon the Royals postseason hopes, September arrived without incident late Sunday.
Much like the Y2K hysteria came and went without chaos, the turning of the calendar was typically mundane despite the universe-tilting curiosity: The Royals are occupants of first place at this juncture for the first time since 1982.
If you didn’t know how they got here, this might be a moment to pause in appreciation and maybe even inhale some serious optimism.
Instead, just as they enter the days that will define this season either as an exhilarating breakthrough or an infuriating mirage, the Royals have been retreating.
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Since winning 24 of 30, the Royals had lost three in a row and five of seven and were on the verge of dropping another before the game with Cleveland on Sunday was suspended.
In front of a national television audience and 39,008 at Kauffman Stadium aching and itching to see them get something, anything, going, the Royals trailed 4-2 in the 10th inning before a fierce rain stopped the game at 10:23 p.m.
When it was called to be resumed on Sept. 22 in Cleveland, the Royals had reverted into sole possession of first place in the American League Central.
That doesn’t remove the fact that into the 10th inning Sunday the Royals had scored two or fewer runs in six of the last eight games.
But at least they didn’t leave so many marooned runners this time. After stranding 12 on Friday and 16 on Saturday, only four were stuck Sunday.
So maybe it was less jarring than being repeatedly taunted Saturday seeing fertile opportunity after fertile opportunity squandered, though on Sunday there was plenty of letdown after yet another Alex Gordon home run had tied it in the bottom of the ninth.
Still, however it is they aren’t scoring is disturbing and conjures worries about what’s to come.
That could prove to be a blip in the big picture, of course. But in the moment, it’s an aimless, numbing trend that stands to sabotage the stretch run if it lingers.
The Royals have gotten where they are because of pitching and defense and a knack for concocting timely offense.
Since they lack any monster offensive producers, they have to cobble together, grind out or otherwise manufacture runs and/or hope they have a handful of different players hot at the same time.
It’s a tenuous formula, but it also was a thriving one for more than a month.
And it’s not asking a lot, actually, to believe they can get back to creating that sort of traction again.
So that’s one thing.
The other, of course, is contending with whatever obstacles the notion of September baseball might pose to a group unaccustomed to being in the middle of it … last season’s late hovering notwithstanding.
Pitcher James Shields is one of just a few Royals to have played in the postseason, and he jokes that September simply is a time to smile.
More to the point, he said earlier Sunday, “We just need to be ourselves and not try to do too much.”
Whether that’s been happening is a matter of interpretation that depends some on who you believe the Royals ultimately will be.
While Shields said he senses no one squeezing too hard, he also said that when the Royals get in big-game situations, “We tend to speed things up. Hopefully, we can slow it down.”
It’s on the veterans to preach that, he said, adding, “The more relaxed we are, the better baseball we’re going to play.”
That emphasis isn’t necessarily a change from the thrust of August, but it has further spice and stakes to it now.
“I don’t know that it’s so much about the calendar as it is about the circumstances and the situations,” said designated hitter Raul Ibanez, another of the few who’ve played in the postseason. “The clock starts ticking.
“The clock’s been ticking all year, but the clock really starts ticking the last month. The magnitude of each moment intensifies.”
So the Royals have to embrace September, now as a time not to keep it going but as a time to hit a reset button.
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” manager Ned Yost said a few days ago, “and if we take care of our own business we’ll be fine.”
It’s still true even as the margin for error gets slimmer and slimmer with the passing days and days to come.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.