Royals get lesson in winning against Angels
Yost makes good call to employ bullpen at critical point in series opener
KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Ned Yost learned his trade sitting at the side of Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox in the Braves' dugout, watching the way Cox would masterfully caress the pitching staff to build confidence and durability.
Yost, like Cox, would do just about anything to give a starting pitcher the reward of a chance to a victory when he does get that once-every-fifth game opportunity to work.
Just about anything -- but not everything.
Not when Yost is trying to help a young team take that major step over the hurdle to the postseason.
Not on Friday night, when the Royals arrived at Kauffman Stadium having lost six of their last seven games, and erased any momentum gained from winning three out of four games at Detroit prior to the slide.
What the Royals needed was a victory -- at all costs. They got it, 8-6, over the Angels, although starting pitcher Jason Vargas came up three outs shy of the five innings needed to claim a victory despite being given an 8-2 lead to work with after four innings.
"I was really hoping he could get through the fifth," said Yost, "but it was not happening."
Yost pushed the envelope, but after six batters and no one out, with the Angels having cut the lead to 8-5 and the bases still loaded, Yost finally gave in and turned to the bullpen.
While Albert Pujols greeted rookie Michael Mariot with a sacrifice fly, four Kansas City relievers combined to work five hitless innings, including a three-strikeout ninth for Greg Holland en route to his American League-leading 23rd save.
"This was nice, but it's no bigger than the next win," designated hitter Billy Butler said. "One of the things we are learning is how to handle the ups and downs. You can't get too excited and you can't get too depressed. You have to show up the next day and win."
The Royals are still learning. They are trying to compete with a Detroit team that has won three consecutive AL Central titles and in the offseason tweaked its lineup with the addition of second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was in the postseason with Texas three of the last four seasons, including trips to the World Series in 2010 and '11.
The Tigers don't panic. How did they respond to losing three of the first four games of a series with the Royals at Comerica Park last week? By not only beating Kansas City in the series finale, and then sweeping three-game series against both Cleveland and Texas. Detroit won the seven in a row by a combined 45-21 margin. Then there are the Royals. The franchise has the longest postseason drought in the big leagues, dating to the 1985 World Series championship, which was the exclamation point on a decade in which Kansas City made seven postseason appearances.
It's not just a generation of Royals fans who have never seen a postseason game at Kauffman Stadium, but it's the bulk of Kansas City's roster that has never even suited up for a playoff game.
Second baseman Omar Infante does have 30 postseason games on his resume with Detroit in 2006, '12 and '13, and Atlanta in 2010. Infielder Danny Valencia played in three games for Minnesota in 2010. And pitchers James Shields (2008, '10 and '11) and Wade Davis (2010 and '11) got a taste with Tampa Bay.
That's all, folks.
As for the Royals' franchise, last year's 86-76 record was its first winning season in nine years and the second in the last 20.
There was, however, a lesson learned by the players who suffered through the struggles of May 2013, when they lost 20 of the final 25 games in that month and woke up June 1 in last place in the AL Central.
"The guys in here are maturing and believe in the talent we have now," Butler said. "We know we're capable of winning 10 in a row [which happened earlier this month]. We also know we lost [eight] in a row last year.
"When you have experienced the ups and downs, you learn to handle them better."
There, however, is no sense taking any chances.
There is no reason to let a victory slip away.
Yost gets that.
As much as he would have liked to have given Vargas a shot of confidence by allowing him to try and survive that fifth inning on Friday night, Yost knew there was an even bigger need for the Royals -- a need to not let a big lead become a big disappointment.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.