Vahe Gregorian

Royals’ Ned Yost makes baseball history as first manager to win first eight postseason games

Royals manager Ned Yost congratulated Lorenzo Cain after Cain was announced as the ALCS MVP following Wednesday’s victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals manager Ned Yost congratulated Lorenzo Cain after Cain was announced as the ALCS MVP following Wednesday’s victory at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

As the Royals completed their re-ordering of the cosmos by seizing the American League pennant on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, the breakthrough conferred vindication and validation on an organization that had been adrift for so long … and the most visible men who run it.

For owner David Glass, the Royals’ astonishing World Series berth reflected his growth from recovering tightwad to a model of selective and prudent investment contoured to this market size.

For general manager Dayton Moore, the catalyst for Glass’ change, the moment was a bold statement that he was no mere dreamer, even if the eight-year process of essentially rebuilding a franchise from zilch took longer than expected.

Turns out Moore might have been onto something when he said last year that “in some small way” he felt like the Royals had won the World Series with their best season in a generation serving as a stepping-stone.

But no one would figure to have more claim to being absolved than manager Ned Yost, who suddenly is the only man in baseball history to guide a team to an 8-0 record in one postseason.

“I didn’t do a thing,” he said. “My players won eight straight. It’s nice.”

One of the themes of the American League Championship Series against the Orioles, after all, had been the dunce (Yost) against the genius, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter.

Yost has been a flashpoint for criticism for years, a man who was fired in Milwaukee during the heat of a pennant race in 2008 and whose every strategic mistake seems to make an indelible impression that trumps any good he does.

When the Royals completed the sweep of Baltimore with a 2-1 victory, though, Yost deflected all credit to the players, Moore and Glass, and his coaches.

He had no interest in gloating even as the notion of the Royals winning despite him surely persists in some arenas.

“I don’t need validation, man,” Yost said on the field before the post-game trophy ceremony. “People ask me about it, I don’t need it. I’m real comfortable with myself. I get criticized all the time: I’m the dumbest manager in baseball. I’m OK with that.

“Because I’ve got really smart coaches.”

Now, Yost in some ways is well-understood as a crusty old-school baseball guy.

But he’s also a lot more complicated and interesting than that, too, and part of that is his blend of self-assurance and tunnel-vision that allows him peace of mind.

If he really lives what he says, in fact, it might make for a nice way to live.

“I know who I am, and I know what I’m about …” he said. “I don’t do any of this for myself.

“When this is all said and done, I’m going to go back to my farm (in Georgia), and I’m going to lock the gate and it’s going to just be me and my (family) and the deer, all right?

“I wanted this so bad for this city, and for our fans, to be able to come out and enjoy this. Because each and every fan that’s here today will never forget this.”

Never mind all the doubts and heat Yost has absorbed.

And it never was more mercilessly and directly than the way he had been booed here just 15 days before after his decision in the AL Wild Card Game to replace James Shields with Yordano Ventura proved to be horrendous.

How did he manage to handle that?

If you are predisposed to not liking Yost, you won’t like the first part of the answer.

But hear him out.

“Because (the fans) didn’t really understand the situation, but I did. I knew what we were doing there. This was the game plan. It just didn’t work out,” he said. “They were booing me, but more than anything else it was their frustration of 29 years of losing that prompted that.

“And I understand that. I understand the frustration in that. And I knew that even though it was directed at me, it was the frustration there.

“So I’ve got to say it was just like water off a duck’s back. I don’t really pay … attention to it because I understand what we’re trying to do. I understand the thought process behind it.

“And when it doesn’t work out, I know you’re going to be criticized. That’s just the way things go nowadays.”

Besides …

“You get criticized when things go right,” he added. “So what does it matter?”

So unburdened by the court of public opinion, Yost just does what he does. But he’s also evolved as a manager, particularly in the last few years.

He’s relinquished his control-freak nature, as outfielder Jarrod Dyson and first baseman Eric Hosmer avowed on Sunday in the champagne-blasting clubhouse and as Yost detailed last week in Baltimore.

“When you grow up 12 years as a coach under Bobby Cox (in Atlanta), Bobby had strict rules in the clubhouse,” Yost says. “No music, no jeans on the road. You couldn’t wear Oakley sunglasses for the first three years. You had to wear the flipdowns.

“They were just regimented, old-school rules.”

Yost let go in other ways, too, including his obsession with making this team a power-hitting one. He started tweaking it to its more obvious strength: the pitching, defense, speed and athleticism that now define it.

And, yes, some bunts … although Lorenzo Cain’s to set up two runs was on Cain’s own on Thursday.

Much as Yost insists this was about everyone but him, though, he wasn’t immune to the emotions of this, either.

In the ninth inning, with Greg Holland on the mound and a runner on, he realized one of his legs had started shaking.

“So I put it down and just kind of held it firm on the ground,” he said. “I (tried) to not give off the appearance that I was nervous …

“I don’t want (Holland) looking in there and seeing me all fidgety and stuff, you know?”

Then Holland closed it out, and Yost jumped up and down and hugged whoever was near him … but stayed back as the first wave surged onto the field.

“I’m not,” he said, “an I-told-you-so guy.”

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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