The Royals’ players-only meeting occurred three weeks ago in Chicago. What was said in the clubhouse — veteran and newcomer Raul Ibañez did much of the talking, according to players — continues to resonate with the team.
“He turned the light on for some of the younger players,” Royals first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler said before Tuesday’s game against the A’s at Kauffman Stadium. “It brought us closer together as a team.”
Precisely what was the message? Players are tight-lipped about what is said behind closed doors.
But an outsider’s perspective might have been exactly what the Royals needed to hear that day. They were riding a four-game losing streak out of the All-Star break and had dropped to 48-50 after spending three days at the top of the American League Central Division in mid-June.
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Tuesday, the Royals were back in first place, riding an eight-game winning streak. They are 16-3 since the meeting entering Tuesday’s game.
“It just gets you refocused,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Essentially, Ibañez said when he was playing for the Angels — before being acquired by the Royals as a free agent on June 30 — they’d talk about the team of Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez in terms of potential. If this team ever got its act together…
Opponents were seeing something in the Royals they might have been seeing themselves.
“They didn’t look forward to playing us,” Butler said. “They knew they would have a tough time with us, and we had to start playing like that team.”
Call it an infusion of confidence.
“We’re the type of team that hasn’t made many mistakes and we’re capitalizing on the mistakes other teams make,” Butler said. “Look at the last game we lost.”
That was Aug. 2 in Oakland. The Royals lost 8-3 in Jon Lester’s first start for the A’s since coming over from the Red Sox. That afternoon, Butler, playing first base, lost a pop fly in the sun. Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon let a ball get past him, which cleared the bases, and third baseman Mike Moustakas misplayed a ball. It all occurred in one inning.
The Royals brushed off the loss and won the next day, taking two of three in the series against the team with baseball’s best record.
How much credit should be given to the closed-door meeting in Chicago? To Butler, plenty.
“It brought us closer as a team,” he said. “We’ve held each other to a higher standard, and it’s made us more accountable.”