At a quarter to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, less than three hours after his team clinched the American League pennant, the manager of the Kansas City Royals left Kauffman Stadium in search of dinner. Ned Yost piloted his family toward the Capitol Grille on the Country Club Plaza. Awaiting him was a reception he had neither expected nor ever before experienced.
Before Yost could dine on steak, lobster mac and cheese and French fries, he feasted on a wave of adulation. The reaction was immediate, intense and emblematic of the good feeling inspired by the team’s berth in the World Series. Once upon a time, Yost used a fake name at Starbucks to avoid recognition. Now he cannot dodge it.
“I walked in, and the whole place went nuts,” Yost said. “I mean, everybody came out of the bar, everybody came out of their seat in the dining area. We just couldn’t get past that desk there. We were high-fiving, hugging, taking pictures. It was a tremendous experience.”
The evening called for a victory lap. The Royals have stormed through October, with eight victories in eight playoff games, the only team ever to complete that feat. They bounced the Orioles out of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday and ignited a celebration that swept both east and west across the plains.
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The next morning, Yost rose before the sun. By 6 a.m. he was on the phone with his close friend Jeff Foxworthy. And his boss, general manager Dayton Moore, was up at 4:45 a.m. There was business to attend to, even as a city and region woke up from the hangover induced by this baseball club.
When the Royals clinched a berth in the American League Wild Card Game on Sept. 26, they ended the longest postseason drought in the major North American sports. When they recovered from a four-run deficit against Oakland in the play-in game, they infused themselves with a confidence that has yet to waver. The victory over the Athletics ignited this unprecedented winning streak.
So much has changed in these two weeks. Once lampooned for their lack of offensive firepower, the Royals now receive garlands for their defense. The Wall Street Journal branded Yost as a “dunce” before this series started. But he out-foxed Orioles manager Buck Showalter during the past four games. Yost displayed an evolved sense of bullpen deployment as his club rolled.
On Thursday afternoon, Moore and Yost settled into chairs in the ground floor of Kauffman Stadium. On a table before them sat the 2014 William Harridge Award, given each year to the champions of the American League. Moore glanced at the trophy before answering a question about its meaning.
“It’s a lot of pride,” Moore said. “But at the same time, we know it’s a really special opportunity moving forward. And we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
Yost remarked on the beauty of the trophy. The day before, owner David Glass had also basked in the hardware’s glow. But, Yost relayed, Glass reminded of the ultimate goal. “He said, ‘I’d sure like to get the one that’s round with all the flags on it,” Yost said. “I said, ‘Just hang on.’”
The Royals must wait until Oct. 21 to begin trying to procure their next trophy. The Giants and Cardinals play the fifth game of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night. Both Moore and Yost insisted they had no preference in their opponent. The team took three of four from St. Louis in June and swept San Francisco in August.
The team has yet to make its rotation official, but it is reasonable to expect that James Shields will start the first game and Yordano Ventura will start the second. The alterations to their 25-man roster figure to be minimal. For these next few days, the club can enjoy the honeymoon.
In more than a decade as a coach of the Braves, Yost reached the World Series five times. This experience tops them all. During the ninth inning on Wednesday, he could not stop his legs from shaking. When the final out was recorded, he leapt higher than he could ever remember.
“There’s no comparison to managing your team,” Yost said. “Coming in and going through what Dayton and I have gone through the last five years. Believing in these young guys. Watching these young guys grow. And watching them develop. And having the patience to withstand the pressure of wanting them to hurry up.
“And understanding that these guys have a timetable, and when it’s right, it’s going to hit. To watch it grow and develop in front of your eyes, this is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in baseball.”