‘You’ve got to be fearless:’ Royals’ speed game also comes with high-stakes mistakes

Speed does a lot of things, but those things aren’t always good. Speed doesn’t always create runs. Sometimes it can cost potential runs. Sure, elite speed can apply pressure to opponents and force mistakes. But that’s a two-way street, and the Royals know that. They’ve rolled the dice on speed before, and they’ve won while doing it.

So it’s not surprising or startling to manager Ned Yost to see the aggressive mentality on the bases, on which the organization has based a large part of its identity, lead to baserunning gaffes.

Headed into Wednesday’s games, the Royals had been picked off while stealing six times, more than any American League team. Terrance Gore and Billy Hamilton, arguably the team’s two fastest players on the basepaths, have accounted for all but one of them. Gore led the league in times picked off while stealing (three) going into Wednesday.

“You’ve got to be fearless,” Yost said. “You can’t be afraid of making a mistake, even if you get picked off to end the game. That’s the way it goes. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. That’s the way we kind of look at it. That’s our game. That’s what we play. Don’t be afraid. That’s why (reporters) make a much bigger deal about Gore getting picked off than we do. That’s the way it is.”

Yost didn’t endorse his players getting picked off. He stressed three things.

First, the club doesn’t like making outs in the running game and obviously wants to minimize it as much as possible.

Second, fans can take it for granted when they see fast players steal bases easily, and when they screw up, it’s similar to how a ground ball gets booted or a fly ball is dropped.

Third, game situations will magnify Gore’s miscues because “it’s always a crucial situation” when he’s inserted as a pinch runner. Those circumstances lend themselves to over anxiousness.

“I remember Dyson getting picked off to end a game in Detroit, a big game,” Yost said. “We were battling Detroit. It was ‘14, I think. We were battling them for the division. We ended up losing the division by one game. Yeah, Dyson got picked off to end the ballgame. So yeah, that happens. But then you just live with it.”

In 2014, the first of the club’s back-to-back World Series appearances, the Royals were picked off while stealing the second-most times (10) of any team in the AL. Individually, Jarrod Dyson led the AL in the number of times picked off while stealing (four) and Lorenzo Cain was tied for the second most (three).

In 2015, the Royals had the third-highest total (eight) of times picked off while stealing in the AL. But they also ranked second in both stolen bases (104) and stolen base success rate (75%).

“Every base stealer is going to tell you he’s got picked off, he’s gotten thrown out,” Gore said. “If you’re a true base stealer, I feel like you’re gonna get picked off. You’re gonna get thrown out. But you’ve gotta still have the mentality to steal no matter what. You’ve got to let your ego go and just go.”

Even after explaining the necessary mindset, Gore admits at times it “stinks” to have your first chance to contribute in a game come in a pressure-packed situation as a pinch runner.

“It’ll get to you for sure,” said Gore, who has stolen five bases in nine attempts this season.

A 5-foot-7, 165-pound Georgia native, Gore may have psyched himself out early in the season by setting high expectations for himself, taking those lofty ambitions with him onto the bases.

He’s been picked off multiple times this season despite having the pitcher’s pickoff move committed to memory and being as comfortable as humanly possible with the keys. How does that happen?

“You’re guessing, like I’m banking on this pitcher not to throw over in a way, rather than let your eyes move your feet — what I used to do,” Gore said.

Where Yost phrased it as you’ve got to “be cool” in those situations, Gore’s terminology was that he needs to “chill” when he’s put in critical spots. Once he does that, he believes it’ll be a matter of becoming adept at picking his spots.

“Every time I go out there everybody knows I’m going to steal a base. It’s just a matter of when,” Gore said. “I’ve just got to think about the counts more, think about the pitcher and what’s he’s trying to do — is he worried about me or is he worried about the hitter — I’ve just got to look into it a little bit more.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.