Back in the training room, Danny Duffy is fixated on the television as a ninth inning that feels more important than most begins. The Royals need two runs to win. They have scored two runs in their last 28 innings. The Twins have called on their All-Star closer, the one with a biting fastball and diving slider. These are the times when only the invested believe.
“How about a bloop and a blast?” one of the trainers asks Duffy.
Out in the dugout, the manager and a coach are talking strategy. There are far too many games left for anyone to freak out one way or the other, but this is starting to have the familiar feel of one of those monsters coming out from around the corner. The Royals worked so hard to get here, first place, playoff dreams coming into focus. Alcides Escobar digs in. Alex Gordon stands in the on-deck circle. The bat boy — a high school kid who hardly ever says a word — turns around to the coaches.
“Esky’s going to get a hit and Gordo’s taking him into the fountains,” he says.
The best thing about the best moment in baseball is that, sometimes, it really does happen like in the movies. Escobar bloops a single. Gordon blasts a slider over the right-field wall. The Royals win 2-1, this increasingly sepia season taking its first real slow-motion, grab-your-buddy-and-kiss-his-cheek moment with a walk-off home run. The Royals remain in first place. It might be the best moment of Gordon’s All-Star career. Afterward, he’ll do an interview on national TV and then spread his arms and smile as Sal Perez dumps yellow Gatorade over his head.
“I was waiting for him,” Gordon says. “I figured, why not?”
It’s the most dramatic win of a spectacular-so-far season, the kind of moment we’ll remember in five weeks if this thing heads into the playoffs — and then, dang-it if manager Ned Yost didn’t take away from the whole thing with a clumsy, misguided, insulting and out-of-touch whine about only 13,847 people showing up on a school and work night with temperatures into the 90s.
First came the sarcasm.
“I mean, what, 13,000 people got to see a great game?” he said in his post-game news conference.
Then a few questions later came the rant that he should spend Wednesday afternoon walking back and apologizing for.
He was asked if he expected more people at the game, and let’s include his whole answer so he can’t claim to be misquoted, or taken out of context:
“We’re in a pennant race, yeah. We’ve been working on trying to build this team for the last three or four years to put ourselves in a position where we can contend for a championship. And not only the division, but we want to contend for a world championship. It’s really, really important we have our fans behind us at the stadium.
“I know it’s a school night. But I’ve been through this before in Atlanta (when the Braves first made the playoffs) in ’91, where it didn’t matter what night it was, that place was packed at the end of August and September. The fans really got into it.
“I know there’s different things you can do. You can watch it on the Internet. You can watch it on TV. But there’s a real need for our fans to be a part of this. We had a great crowd last night, and I was kind of hoping we’d have another great crowd tonight, and we really didn’t.
“They’re a big part of our success, especially at home. Because the electricity they provide, the energy they provide, helps you get through games like this. You know? We’ve been working hard to make our fans happy and make our fans proud for a lot of years, and we’d like them out here to enjoy a night like this with us. Because this was a special night. This was a fun night. I just wish there could’ve been more out here to enjoy it with us.”
What a stupid thing to say, on so many levels, and I’m writing this on deadline so I’ll stick to the stupidest.
First, Yost is dead wrong. Laughably wrong. And this isn’t about his contention that the “electricity” of the home crowd helps a team that is now 4-6 in front of crowds more than 30,000 at home and just had its signature win of the season in front of fewer than 14,000. It’s not even about the fact that a manager fired six years ago with 12 games left and his team holding a playoff spot at least in part because he wasn’t handling pressure well might not want to pick unnecessary fights with fans after the best win of the season.
Yost must have forgotten that in 1991, when the Braves were going from worst to first they played a home game on Aug. 26, a Monday night, with first place potentially in the balance.
And 12,889 people showed up.
That’s not a typo. The next night, the Braves moved into first place in front of 15,806 people.
If a big-league manager is going to insult the fans who’ve supported his team long before he showed up he might want to get his facts right. Or even close.
Second, he must not understand how silly and out of touch he sounds when he talks about “trying to build this team for the last three or four years.”
Three or four years?
Many of the people who spent their money and time to watch Yost’s team on Tuesday night have been around for 10 years. Twenty. Twenty-five. And only the ones old enough (and young enough, come to think of it) to remember 29 years ago have had their loyalty and passion repaid with even a sniff of a playoff appearance.
All due respect to Yost’s three or four years of hard work, but the fans he’s talking down to had their hearts broken long before he came here and will be here long after he’s gone.
Maybe he should give them some slack if a great five weeks of baseball hasn’t swayed a generation of stink just yet.
Look, you can understand where Yost is coming from. It has to be frustrating to be in first place and play in front of more empty seats than fans. But Yost is in good company here. Baltimore is a proud baseball town, and the first-place Orioles played in front of 16,406 on Tuesday night.
Yost wants the city behind him, and he should. His entire managing philosophy is about supporting his players, and maybe he sees this as a way of showing his players he believes in them. Maybe he simply thought he was making a genuine plea for fans to come out to the games, unaware of how it would come off.
But he picked the wrong occasion to make the wrong point
He talks all the time about he and his players being focused, about caring only about the things they can control. He didn’t live up to those words in the aftermath of his team’s most thrilling win of the season.
A shame, too. Because the fans will show up if the team keeps winning, no matter what the out-of-touch manager says about them.