When indestructible All-Star Alex Gordon crumpled to the ground in left field July 8 at Kauffman Stadium, a pall came over the scene and a shudder surged through the Royals organization.
Of all the mayhem the Royals have shrugged off in a season of resilience — trumping the constant flux of injuries, suspensions and volatile starting pitching — coping without Gordon for what is expected to be two months loomed as the most grueling and telling of challenges.
Especially if you consider only the improbable superficial credentials of the platoon seeking to replace him:
Jarrod Dyson, a 50th-round draft pick, and Paulo Orlando, a Brazilian whose rookie year in the major leagues also will be marked by his turning 30.
But in the first few weeks since the abrupt loss of Gordon, anyway, Dyson and Orlando have buoyed the Royals — and then some.
The preservation started with Dyson’s revitalizing assist in the very inning Gordon went down, his inside-the-park home run later that day and a catch Royals super scout Art Stewart considers one of the three best in franchise history.
It ran through Orlando’s game-winning home run in the bizarre 11-10 win over Toronto going into the All-Star break (five days after his walk-off grand slam).
And it extended to Dyson’s two go-ahead RBIs this week.
All of which is part of why the Royals were 9-3 since losing Gordon before losing to the Cardinals on Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
The crucial phase, accompanied by the revived Alex Rios in right, at least reduces any sense of desperation the Royals might have about trading for a corner outfielder when they’d seem best-advised to funnel any potential trade bait towards starting pitching.
Before the game, the ever-animated Dyson called over his counterpart to reminisce about when they first played together in 2008 for Class A Wilmington.
Orlando had been in the White Sox system and had a habit of just “destroying” the Royals affiliates, as Dyson recalled, before they acquired him between games in a series.
“He just swapped clubhouses,” Dyson said. “Then first pitch to Paulo, they threw behind his head. Next pitch: home run.”
Orlando is 6 feet 2, Dyson about 5-9, and their backgrounds would seem about as distinct as can be.
But they also share a few traits, not the least of which is this:
“I think if we ever land an everyday job, it wouldn’t be given to us,” Dyson said. “We’d straight-up earn that spot.”
Dyson can say that about himself with particular authority, and it’s the first thing manager Ned Yost thinks of as he considers what enabled Dyson to be ready for this moment.
“Nothing’s ever been given to him. In his whole life,” Yost said. “He had to grow up tough. And he’s not afraid of anything, man. Not afraid of a challenge, not afraid of anything.”
That was true from the time he was about 4 years old and he was serving as a batboy for his father’s Pony League team.
One day, they needed a body just to stand at the plate, hold the bat and squat down to try to get a walk. Since Dyson probably didn’t even rise to the hips of his opponents, walk he did. Again and again.
“One day, I just got tired of doing that, and I swung the bat and got a base hit,” he said. “And ever since then, I was playing with the big boys.”
Albeit with some intermittent disruptions along the way, including not playing baseball in middle school.
For reasons that weren’t entirely clear, his mother apparently pulled him out of baseball a few times as she stayed on him to not end up like the older brothers who had squandered their talents for various reasons.
Ultimately, that’s what fuels Dyson.
“That’s the chip on my shoulder I go out there and play with,” said Dyson, who grew up in a neighborhood of McComb, Miss., teeming with drug dealing and violence. “Where I came from, it’s not always good, and to make it out it’s a blessing, and you’ve got to kind of, like, stay focused.
“There is so much going on it’s easy to get wrapped up in and not follow your dream down there. So I’m trying to make it for others that are down in my town, that really can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He had to squint to see that light himself, even after two years at Southwest Mississippi Junior College earned him a chance to be picked by the Royals in the 50th round in 2006 — a round that no longer exists.
“Art Stewart, man, he’s the one who picked me off the board; he always got the 50th-round pick,” said Dyson, referring to the Royals super scout who has been with the franchise since its inception. “If it weren’t for Art, I wouldn’t be here.
“I’ve got a lot of love for a lot of people in this organization.”
That includes everyone from outfielder coach Rusty Kuntz, whose brain he says he can’t pick enough, to general manager Dayton Moore, who stuck with him at several pivotal stages.
Not the least of which was in 2009 after Dyson received a 50-game suspension for violating the minor-league, performance-enhancing drug policy after taking pain medication he shouldn’t have for a toothache.
“Him sticking with me is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said, “and I can never repay him for that.”
But the Royals and Moore have gotten ample repayment for their faith in Dyson, whose personality makes him a major force in the clubhouse.
“He controls everything that goes on in his locker room,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
And he’s been at his best when the Royals have needed him most.
“I don’t want to say he’s filled in Gordo’s shoes all the way, but defensively he’s right there, he’s doing a great job of hitting for us, a lot of big hits,” Hosmer said. “He’s a guy a lot of teams would use as their everyday center fielder, and it’s just the strength and the depth of our club to have a guy like him.”
No matter where he was drafted.
“Really shouldn’t be here, to most people,” he said. “But to myself, it ain’t where you get drafted, it ain’t where you’re from. It’s what you do when you get a shot.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com