Back in the day, captured in photographs that surely have yellowed and warped by now, Royals’ designated hitter Brandon Moss blasted a home run in the second inning of a game against Colorado.
That eternity ago, the Royals were on the upside of that fine line between a groove and a rut they’d straddled most of the season.
The homer last Thursday gave them a 2-0 lead over the Rockies. It suggested they were poised to close out a series sweep and win their fourth straight game heading into a pivotal weekend at American League Central-leading Cleveland.
But instead of the moment contributing to a meaningful win and furnishing momentum into last weekend, Moss’ home run has disintegrated into the deflating answer to a trivia question.
One about what has become almost farcical futility.
As of their 12-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Monday at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals had gone a staggering 43 innings without a run since Moss was their last player to score.
Viewed another way, in that span their opponents have scored 35 unanswered runs — which would be a lot in any sport, but particularly outlandish in baseball.
In the process, the Royals have matched a Major League Baseball record in being shut out four straight games — including with just two hits on Monday — and ended the night six innings from breaking the MLB-record for consecutive innings without a run.
“There’s no explanation for it ,” manager Ned Yost said. “ … I can’t even make something up to try to sell.”
In the process, they’ve spiraled from a chance to nip at the heels of Cleveland to being virtually lapped in the division race at 10 games back with a mere 32 to play.
Say this for the Royals, though:
At least there was nothing subtle or gradual about a stretch that appears to have relegated any reasonable postseason hopes to salvaging a wild-card berth.
No one knows better than the Royals and their fans what magic could loom in qualifying for the wild card, of course.
And the modus operandi and even DNA of this group has been marked by finding ways to shrug off dire circumstances like this.
The logical lesson of 2014 remains to make no assumptions and assign no limits to a team defined by a central core that has played together for nearly a decade through the minor leagues, through agony and ecstasy in the big leagues and is assured only a little more than a month left together with free agency awaiting so many.
But here’s something else they do really well on occasion: look so bad in so many ways for such stretches that faith fades into mere hope …
The team plummeting in the standings is drooping on the field, too, where too often lately it’s absurdly behind early (12-0 in the second on Sunday in Cleveland and 7-0 in the third on Monday).
The latest culprit was again Ian Kennedy, who has now made 17 straight home starts without a win since last August and given up 59 earned runs in 88 innings in that time frame.
Meanwhile, the Royals couldn’t make a dent against yet another pitcher with pedestrian numbers, Tampa Bay rookie Austin Pruitt, who entered the game 6-4 with a 5.76 ERA.
For his part, Yost insists he sees no quit in this team as he looks at the energy, the fight and the intensity.
It’s those traits, he says, that make him believe this team will pull out of yet another tailspin.
The combination was the opposite, really, of what Yost had called for before the game.
“It’s 25 guys, each and very one of them doing their own individual job to make it work,” he said.
Or not, as the case may be.
So now what?
About the time the Royals won the 2014 American League wild-card game with the inconceivable comeback against Oakland to propel themselves into the World Series, Yost figured he’d fulfilled and completed one part of his job.
A young core had come of age, learned who it was as a team both stylistically and in terms of a distinct sense of group resolve.
“So it’s more just managing the game than it is managing their personalities,” he said in mid-2015 as the Royals were cruising towards the ultimate encore of winning the World Series.
By now, with much the same nucleus, Yost-to-team pep talks have become increasingly rare and tirades have virtually vanished from his repertoire.
Which makes sense, actually, considering players should be furnishing most of their own motivation in concert with position coaches.
For a sport in which “try easier” might be the best (and most elusive) advice, the effectiveness of a managerial show for veteran players is debatable and tantrums likely are counterproductive.
Every so often, though, Yost understands that even the psyche of a mature team needs some healing or energy or just … something.
So it was that after the Royals were outscored 20-0 over the miserable weekend in Cleveland, he was compelled to address the team.
“I gave them all a little plan of attack yesterday after the game,” he said before the game Monday, offering a vague recounting of his words. “ ‘You know, we’re nine games out, and our goal now is to chip it down to five or six by the time we go back to Cleveland (in mid-September), and we’ve got to have our stuff together by the time we get there.’
“That’s the plan. That’s the goal from here. You’ve got to have one. You’ve got to have hope. Hope is a great thing to have.”
But from the outside looking in, anyway, it only goes so far when the last run you scored becomes the answer to a trivia question … and the next one seems like a mirage in the distance.