Yost, Royals again off and running
Skipper has helped ensure zero letdown for reigning AL champs
OAKLAND -- Royals manager Ned Yost has that Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox humility down to a T.
"Sometimes I feel stupid," said Yost, a longtime member of Cox's coaching staff in Atlanta. "Sometimes I go a whole game without giving a sign. These guys are athletic. They know how to play the game. They know when to do what needs to be done."
Like Cox used to downplay the role he had in managing the Braves to a professional-record 14 consecutive division titles, Yost is at a point where he is allowing the results to speak for his accomplishments.
And it's been impressive for Yost in his second managerial job. Dismissed by the Brewers with 12 games left in the 2008 season even though the team was headed into the postseason as the NL Wild Card, Yost earned his second opportunity with the Royals midway through the 2010 season. A year ago he guided the Royals into the World Series, claiming a Wild Card berth and ending a 29-year postseason drought for the franchise.
Now look at the Royals.
With a 3-2 victory over the A's on Saturday afternoon, the Royals are a season-best 15 games above .500 (43-28), sitting atop the AL Central with a 4 1/2-game lead on the Twins and 6 1/2 games in front of the Tigers, winners of the last four AL Central titles.
It was Kendrys Morales who delivered the two-run single that put the Royals on top, 3-2, in the sixth. It was Chris Young, who provided six solid innings as a starter, and then the trio of Ryan Madson, Wade Davis and Greg Holland coming out of the bullpen for a shutout inning of relief apiece.
But that guy on the end of the bench, who loves to spend his offseason in deer blinds and would much rather break down the upcoming NASCAR race than talk about what he may have done to give the Royals an edge in the day's game, was just as big a part of what transpired as anybody in uniform.
With one out in the sixth, the A's leading 2-1, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain worked A's left-hander Scott Kazmir for a walk, and left-handed-hitting Eric Hosmer singled. Then, on the second pitch to Morales, Yost rolled the dice, and the Royals pulled off a double steal that set up a two-run single.
"I felt it was a good time to take a gamble, right there," said Yost. "Trying to find ways to win games, and sometimes you take chances."
This season the Royals have not had to take as many chances as a year ago when they were the only team in the Majors to not have a triple-figure home run total, hitting 95, but ran their way to the AL pennant. They led the Majors with 153 stolen bases.
This year? They are seventh in the AL with 43 stolen bases in 71 games. But this year they have scored 311 runs, eight more than they had scored with the run-and-gun offensive approach at this point a year ago.
"You try to be smart," Yost said of his approach to the running game. "The opposing teams will work to control the running game. We're not going to run into outs. But when the opportunity exists there are times you have to gamble."
Those times have come more frequently in the last three weeks.
Forty-two games into the season the Royals were 28-14, and had scored 210 runs, second to only Toronto among AL teams, but were tied for sixth in the AL with 26 stolen bases.
It was an evolution, due primarily to the offensive emergence of former first-round picks Mike Moustakas, the second player selected overall in 2007, and Hosmer, the third player taken in 2008, as forces in the lineup.
"The big change with them was their confidence," said Yost. "Before they also thought they would be good offensive players and felt the pressure. Once the players came and their focus was off their own performance, and on the team winning games they took off.
"That experience made them better players this year. They know who they are and what it takes to win. They know they are good players and they can stand up under the bright lights in the biggest test in baseball and be successful."
But then there are reality checks. And the Royals hit one in an 11-game stretch that saw them lose nine times. They scored only 23 runs, and 12 of those came in the two wins.
They slipped into second place in the AL Central, a game back of the Twins.
Time to be the aggressor. The Royals started to force the issue again, and have won 13 of their last 18 games. They also have succeeded on 13 of 17 stolen-base attempts.
Just the way things have worked out, said Yost. Nothing intentional.
"I said to myself, `I have to be patient and let them work through it,"' said Yost. "I felt they'd be OK."
Yost felt right.
The Royals are just fine.
They are off and running again, winning games at a better rate (.606) than any other team in the American League.