For all the hiccups and swerves and exasperating moments that came with general manager Dayton Moore’s fantasy to save the Royals, maybe none was more personally deflating to Moore than firing Trey Hillman on May 13, 2010.
Since taking over in mid-2006, Moore already had cashiered the man he inherited, Buddy Bell in 2007. That was in favor of Hillman, whom Moore considered a great friend and the man to steer them out of a generation of futility.
When the Royals mustered a 152-207 record in two seasons-plus under Hillman, though, Moore was compelled to make another change — a change that surely left him doubting where this was all going.
"My emotions," Moore said, "were at an all-time low."
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That’s when Moore turned to special adviser Ned Yost, best known then for having been fired by Milwaukee in 2008 with an 83-67 record.
And best-known now as the winningest manager in Royals history (411 wins) after his team beat Milwaukee 3-2 Thursday at Kauffman Stadium.
That the moment came against the Brewers was a particularly fine bit of symmetry for Yost, whose 2008 team had sputtered down the stretch to make for what is believed to be the first time in a non-strike season a manager was fired in August or later with his team in playoff position.
Yost was bewildered and distressed but not quite depressed by the firing, he’ll tell you, and he was energized by the year off that came with it.
That vitality Moore felt from Yost, combined with the baseball acumen he knew him to have from their days in Atlanta together and Yost’s experience nurturing a young team in Milwaukee, convinced Moore that he was the answer.
So much so that Moore now says he saw him as "the absolute right manager, the perfect manager, for what we were experiencing at the time."
So much so that Moore’s own flagging faith was rejuvenated by Yost.
Yost "really lifted me, and lifted us all, and, I felt, gave us new life," Moore said.
With progress largely intangible and moving at a glacial pace, of course, the new life wasn’t always evident.
Until this season, fans largely were consumed with Yost’s tactical errors or perceived eccentricities and occasional crankiness.
None of which seem to come up much now, but all of which then became entwined with the never-ending narrative:
The Royals might never be winners again, and they’ll never win under this guy.
That’s why the derisive catch-all #yosted emerged for about anything that went awry.
That’s why even as late as September 2013, when the Royals were on their way to their best season since 1989, only 632 of 2,103 respondents to a Kansascity.com poll wanted Yost kept.
What’s happened since, of course, doesn’t make Yost a genius, and you can bet the second-guessing still bubbles on the back burner and can get back to simmer in an instant.
But what’s happened since vindicates and validates Yost, who considers his ascension to the top of the list a matter of circumstance and has suggested Moore could have fired him five times along the way.
"Never thought about it," Moore said.
For one reason more than any other, the one Moore started with and the one that players think of, and the thing that’s least visible but maybe matters most.
"It’s just leadership. I don’t know how to explain it. Some people have it, and some people don’t," said left fielder Alex Gordon, 31. "He definitely has it, and he leads this team by what he says and how he acts and how he treats us. It starts with him."
As the longest-tenured Royal and an established star, Gordon’s perspective is telling in a certain way.
But maybe the most significant voices are the ones who were seeking their place and sinking at times, players like Mike Moustakas who were publicly condemned.
"He stuck with me through so many struggles," Moustakas said. "Even when I was hitting (.170), he had my back."
Moustakas was made to feel he still was the Royals’ third baseman even when he was sent to Class AAA Omaha last season.
This season, he was hitting .323 entering the game Thursday and appears to have become the player the Royals long had hoped he’d be.
The credit for this is his, but Moustakas appreciates that he was nurtured and supported through a precarious point in his career.
As much as Moustakas was a focal point for fans’ frustration, though, no one endured more than pitcher Luke Hochevar, who in 2006 became the only overall No. 1 pick in franchise history.
Hochevar sputtered and became a convenient symbol of franchise futility until his breakthrough in the bullpen in 2013.
"Really, from the time that he came in, I’ve just seen him progressively build this team, build the team’s mindset," Hochevar said. "Everyone knew he was in our corner."
So when you’d hear Yost cover for a developing player, maybe it made you roll your eyes.
But there was important work being done there.
"He’d say, ‘That was my fault;’ he’d wear something so we didn’t have to in here," Hochevar said. "And then people might have taken that and run with it. …
"But everybody in the clubhouse is, like, ‘Man, he’s standing up for us. We need to freaking run through a brick wall for this guy.’ That’s where that mentality comes from in here.
"As players, you see that happen, you see somebody stand up for you, and you say, ‘No, he’s not wearing it anymore.’ "
Yost’s encouragement was particularly pertinent to Hochevar.
"Shoot, yeah," he said. "A lot of times, that’s all you need. You don’t need somebody else saying ‘you need to do this or you need to do that.’ You just need somebody saying, ‘You know what? I’m with you, Bud.’ And he knew how to do that.
"There are times he challenges me, and us as a team. But I think a lot of that comes with timing, and his timing’s always been spot-on."
Just in time, as it turns out, for Moore, the Royals and a fan base that he helped revive even as it resisted him.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian.