The blue string was hung from the top of the dugout, across of a series of metal hooks that stretched close to 40 feet. Royals reliever Scott Downs was focused, standing on one end of the mostly empty dugout, attaching a green Gatorade cup to part of the string.
He wore flip-flops and a backward hat. It was Saturday afternoon. Just a few hours before game four of the World Series here at AT&T Park.
Downs, a 38-year-old veteran, is not on the World Series roster, and that means he has plenty of idle time. So on Saturday afternoon, he configured a “bullpen phone” out of cups and string. The confines here at AT&T Park do not include bullpen seats; the relievers sit in the dugout and trot out to warm up on mounds built down the lines. So Downs went to work, crafting a homemade communication device.
Yes, these are the Royals at this World Series, coming of age at the game’s pinnacle, generally acting like a collection of sixth-graders on a weekend field trip to San Francisco. There’s catcher Salvador Perez, trolling Lorenzo Cain with another cell-phone video, photo-bombing another television live shot. There’s Jarrod Dyson, cracking up at first base after Jason Vargas tries to trot to first base after ball three. There’s manager Ned Yost, admitting that he secretly hoped this series would go seven games for the “excitement and thrill of it.”
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“You know what? I’ve just been having a blast,” Yost said Sunday, nearly four hours before a pivotal game five. “We’re in the World Series. My team is confident. My team is loose. That gives me confidence.”
Those words came less than 24 hours after Yost had watched Vargas and his bullpen squander a 4-1 lead in game four, evening the series at two games apiece. The Royals were 21 outs from taking a commanding 3-1 lead, with games six and seven, if needed, at Kauffman Stadium.
But Sunday afternoon, Yost did not sound like a man still bothered by the events of the previous night. He sounded upbeat and resolute, ready for anything the baseball gods might unleash on his team during the final games of this series.
“You know,” Yost said, “all of my boys in that locker room have a deep feeling in their heart that they’re going to win the World Series. And if you have that feeling, a loss doesn’t matter. If you believe you’re going to win — one loss, two losses doesn’t matter. It’s a seven-game series; you’ve got to win four.
“So you just go out, play your hearts out, and whatever happens, happens. All the ingredients are there for it to be successful.”
The Royals have followed Yost’s lead. In the hours before game five, a team charter bus pulled into a narrow entrance at AT&T Park. The players wore suits, their travel-day attire, ready to return home to Kansas City in the late-night hours after game five.
No matter what happened on Sunday night in this ballpark in China Basin, the Royals would play again. Starting pitcher James Shields, who faced Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on Sunday night, was among the first players off the bus. He walked alongside Dyson, chatting casually.
Imagine a starting pitcher in the hours before the most important start of his career. You probably would not envision how Shields looked Sunday afternoon.
“You realize how lucky and how fortunate you are as a player to be in this position,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “So you want to enjoy every moment of it.”
Twenty-seven days ago, the Royals were essentially dead. Down four runs against A’s starter Jon Lester. Just five outs remaining in the AL Wild Card Game at Kauffman Stadium. A franchise’s first trip to the postseason in 29 years was about to last all of one warm September night in Kansas City.
Maybe that’s why it’s been so easy to relax during the heart of October. Maybe that’s why the Royals don’t feel the burden of the moment. When you nearly die on the final day of September, you learn to appreciate the final days of October.
“I just think something lifted after the Wild Card Game,” Yost said.
When the Royals won the American League pennant, Yost made a promise to himself: He would enjoy this Fall Classic. After playing in a World Series as a player, and returning five times as a coach for the Atlanta Braves, Yost remembered how quickly the moments passed.
So here were the Royals on Sunday afternoon — the sun gleaming off the San Francisco Bay, a ballpark filling up before game five, a bunch of kids at the World Series, and Yost ready for another night.
“It’s what you live for, man,” Yost said. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this, and I’m not going to sit back and be uptight and not enjoy every second of it.”