Yost's leadership has Royals in good position
Though postseason run ended shy of championship, club needed taste of success
It's been eight days since Pablo Sandoval gloved Salvador Perez's foul pop, fell on his back staring at the heavens and the Royals' Cinderella season was over.
"And it still stings to come that close and not win it," Kansas City skipper Ned Yost said over the phone Thursday from his LaGrange, Ga., home. "Even with two outs in the ninth inning and nobody on, I felt very strongly we were going to win."
But it didn't happen.
With an incredible, if not historic, relief performance from Madison Bumgarner, the Giants held off the Royals, 3-2, in Game 7 and left Kauffman Stadium with their third World Series title in five seasons.
In the ninth inning, with the tying run just 90 feet away and two out, the Panda caught Perez's ball near third base to end Kansas City's dream.
Since, the 60-year-old Yost, who lifted the Royals from the depths of perennial losing, has undergone basal cell carcinoma surgery on his nose and returned to his 700-acre Georgia spread.
Yost said rehashing the season has dominated most of his thinking, except "for working on the farm, catching up with the family and doing a little deer hunting. I'm going to fly to New York on Friday for the Gold Glove banquet -- I got three guys [Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Perez] getting them."
"You know, it takes two or three weeks before you can get relaxed after something like that World Series."
If ever. No matter how hard he tries, Yost just can't shake visions of that deciding and fateful ninth inning in Game 7.
In the ninth, with two out and Bumgarner once again virtually invincible, Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco let Gordon's certain-to-be single skip by him, and left fielder Juan Perez bobbled and dropped the ball once he'd chased it down on the warning track.
Gordon sped to third base but was held up by coach Mike Jirschele. The runner stayed put, not forcing shortstop Brandon Crawford, who took the relay throw from the outfield, to make a perfect throw to home plate.
Jirschele said Gordon would have been out, and the runner agreed. That's good enough for Yost.
"It was a good hold," said Gordon, who'll certainly be asked the same question when he gets to New York this weekend. "They would have gotten me with plenty of time."
Yost said: "Gordy gets the hit, they're bobbling the ball around, he's at third and I say to myself, 'Here we go, here we go.'
"And then the popup to Sandoval hit me hard, and I thought, 'Hey, what's going on here? We're supposed to win this thing.'
"Yes, it was a magical postseason for us, but I sure would've liked to have won it."
The Royals, who hadn't been to the postseason since winning the World Series in 1985, played well much of 2014, but they were inconsistent.
They settled for an American League Wild Card berth. In the one-game showdown with Oakland, Kansas City won, 9-8, in 12 innings, after falling behind the A's, 7-3, after six and being in an 8-7 hole in the 12th.
"In the middle of that Wild Card Game, all of a sudden, they knew they were going to win," Yost said Thursday. "The intensity, the passion, the focus they had. I looked at them in the dugout and knew they weren't going to be beat.
"After that, from the midway point of that game, their confidence went through the roof. They knew they had what it takes to go deep into the playoffs."
After disposing of Oakland, the Royals swept the Angels, the team which had Major League Baseball's best 2014 record, then swept the Orioles to give their long-starved fans a World Series for the first time in 29 years.
"They flipped the switch and became completely different players than they had been all year long," Yost said. "They were totally energized throughout the entire playoffs -- the energy they had in the clubhouse, the energy they played the game with, it was amazing to watch.
"All year long, I didn't see the intensity and the focus they had during the month of the playoffs. It was amazing. They just rose to the occasion and brought their A-game, which they never had before. I always knew it was there, but had never seen it until the playoffs."
After all the dreadful losing seasons, Yost deserves enormous credit for changing the Royals' clubhouse culture.
"I was fortunate to watch Bobby Cox do it in Atlanta during my years [1991-2002] on his staff," said Yost. "My first year there, the Braves were dead last. Then, all of a sudden, the young kids who'd been in the big leagues for a couple of years, and boom! They started winning."
In Milwaukee, where Yost managed for six years (2003-08), the Brewers went from a 106-loss season to become a contender.
"I knew this was a special group in Kansas City, and it would take time and patience," Yost said. "I had to allow them to become comfortable in the Major Leagues.
"I consider myself a really good developer of young talent. But to go from a developing mode to winning mode, that's where my coaches really helped me this year -- being able to separate the two."
Said general manager Dayton Moore: "The one thing about Ned is he lets the coaches coach, and he gives them a lot of autonomy in their areas to make decisions and set the structure for the players, and that's a sign of a secure leader that allows the people to do their jobs."
Yost learned firsthand from Hall of Famer Cox the season following a great year is difficult, especially for the manager. The players often forget what it took to accomplish what they did the previous year.
"This is such a special group of kids, I don't believe that will be a problem," said Yost. "They came so close this year and didn't get it. They're going to show up next spring with the intent of getting that.
"It's going to be a lot easier, because they have that carrot in front of them. It's not going to be that hard to get them focused again."
And maybe their wild ride won't end 90 feet away.