Vahe Gregorian

In wake of Royals’ seventh-game thriller, fans should appreciate Ned Yost

Royals manager Ned Yost came back out to thank Royals fans after his team lost game seven of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals manager Ned Yost came back out to thank Royals fans after his team lost game seven of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

As agonizing as the Royals’ final out might have been on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, with Alex Gordon on third base as the tying run in game seven of the World Series, the moment was the stuff that dreams are made of.

As a kid hitting rocks in his back yard, manager Ned Yost never thought about “bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth, game five of the World Series, you know? Never.

“It was always two outs, bottom of the ninth, game seven of the World Series, you know?”

So much so that Yost “secretly” had hoped the series would come to this scenario.

The downside of that desire to walk the high-wire, of course, was the extreme risk-reward stakes that came with it. Careful what you wish for. Maybe it hurt all the more to lose 3-2.

“As magical as our run has been, to end up losing the ballgame by 90 feet is tough,” Yost said.

Then again, this also was a little bit like it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

If they had to lose, why not in the ultimate game?

The Royals’ very presence in game seven illustrated the magic of a redemptive season that revived a woe-is-us fan base and said it’s safe to believe again in a franchise that had embodied futility for 28 years.

“Even as optimistic as I am,” Yost said, “it was even more than I expected.”

Simply asked about what he believes this has meant to fans, Yost broached the essence of the issue.

“I don’t know if the relationship was ever broken between the Royals and our fans,” Yost said. “They just wanted us to be good again so that they could come out and support us. On a scale of one to 10 in terms of support throughout the postseason, it’s got to be 14.”

Any reasonable fan ought to be reciprocating that appreciation of Yost by now.

He’s been typecast as a curmudgeon, bashed like a piñata and labeled a dunce that the team wins despite.

But in a postseason that began with a game in which the Royals did overcome an ill-conceived, wince-inducing decision of his (Yordano Ventura in relief of James Shields in the American League Wild Card Game against Oakland), Yost otherwise either was seamless or remarkably fortunate.

Moreover, he didn’t care which one you thought he was but found a way to deliver that with humor, humility and sincerity.

Somewhere along the way, Yost was liberated by a peace of mind that comes with letting go of having to get his way — whether with players, coaches and, to some degree, the media.

His news conferences were anecdotal and expansive and funny and revealing, and one day in the middle of all this he sat down with The Star and opened up about his childhood.

Some people simply made up their minds about Yost long ago, either that he was irascible or not bright, and they’ll never let go even as he demonstrated his own growth by tweaking tactics and strategies.

This doesn’t make him Einstein, but he’s simply not the buffoon some want to label him as.

If you must blame him for the Royals not winning the World Series, about all you’ve got is that he didn’t find a way to make Madison Bumgarner disappear.

Yost wasn’t the only one, of course, to change perceptions of himself in this playoff run.

Outfielder Lorenzo Cain had a coming-out party that made a mockery of the ill-conceived Gold Glove ballots that didn’t include him.

With a Royals’ record five postseason home runs, third baseman Mike Moustakas became a latter-day Mr. October just months after being demoted to the minor leagues.

First baseman Eric Hosmer, like Moustakas long seen as a would-be cornerstone of the Royals’ future, emerged with a fury and seized a leadership role as never before.

Rookie pitcher Yordano Ventura put on an unforgettable, heart-wrenching performance honoring fallen friend Oscar Taveras.

But maybe no one’s image get a more extreme makeover than Yost in a rejuvenating season with a bittersweet ending.

“The hard part about this is that you work all year to climb to the top of the mountain, and then, boom, you fall back and you’ve got to start right back at the bottom again next year,” Yost said.

In a sense, yes.

But the context has changed completely now, and maybe a transformatively, because the Royals went to 90 feet away from tying game seven of the World Series in the bottom of the ninth.

“With this postseason experience, they got over the hump,” Yost said. “Last year at the end of the year, I’m like, ‘OK, I hope they got over the hump. There is no hoping any more.

“I mean, you know these guys have gotten over the hump. (But) they’re still very, very hungry. It’s a very dejected group in there right now.

“They didn’t accomplish their goal. They knew how close they came, and they’re going to want to taste it again.”

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

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