KANSAS CITY – Few managers in recent times, especially ones who have taken their team as deep as Game Six of the World Series, have been the butt of jokes and second-guesses like Ned Yost. And Yost drew plenty of raised eyebrows again here early Monday evening in Kauffman Stadium.
Yost’s Royals are trailing the San Francisco Giants, three games to two. They haven’t scored a run in the last 15∑ innings – and have been outscored, 15-0, in that stretch. They’ve crossed home plate in just one of their last 21 innings and only two of the last 26.
They couldn’t touch San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner in Game Five. Even their seemingly unbeatable bullpen got beat up. Now they have to turn to rookie Yordano Ventura to extend their season tonight in Game Six.
It looks like one of baseball’s grandest Cinderellas of recent years is finally going to turn into an October pumpkin at the climactic moment of its first ball since 1985.
Just don’t tell Yost that.
Over the weekend in San Francisco, the baseball lifer was downright wistful about the chance to take part in a potential Game Seven for the sheer history of it. Now a winner-take-all affair is a necessity to keep his team afloat after it ran aground the last two games on the shores of McCovey Cove. And Yost pretty much guaranteed it’s going to happen Monday.
“We’re going to win Game Six and then worry about Game Seven,” Yost said. “You can’t think about Game Seven – even though I’ve got a real strong sense in my heart that we’re gonna be in Game Seven. But I can’t worry about Game Seven. I’ve got to do everything I can to win Game Six.
“Even though our backs are against the wall, what’s weird about it is it doesn’t feel like our backs are against the wall. It’s a good feeling.”
Why doesn’t it feel that way?
“Cuz I think we’re gonna win. That’s the way I feel,” Yost said. “I’ve got that much confidence in Ventura. ... His confidence is just staggering. You walk in that clubhouse and he looks you square in the eye with that glint that says, ‘I’m ready for this.’ ”
Yost’s confidence resonated with his players, a few of whom took part in an optional workout Monday.
“We have confidence in each other, he has confidence in us,” said outfielder Lorenzo Cain. “We feel the same way about ourselves as well. We can’t hang our heads on that last loss. We have to find a way to bounce back. We’re definitely not facing Bumgarner so that helps us. Hopefully we put up some runs and our pitching holds the ship down the rest of the way.”
“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but everybody is going to give everything they have, go out there and fight, knowing that we’re a good team with confidence,” Ventura said, with Jeremy Guthrie serving as his interpreter. “The biggest goal is to not leave anything behind. To give everything you have, knowing that that could be the last game. We have all the confidence that we can go out there and win.”
Ventura will pitch against San Francisco veteran Jake Peavy in a rematch of Game Two, which saw the Royals snap a 2-2 tie with a five-run sixth and cruise to a 7-2 win. But even with Bumgarner on the sidelines for this one, the Royals have to do something – anything – at the plate to extend the series.
“Swing the bats better,” Cain said. “We’ve been aggressive the entire postseason. We have to continue to be that way. And we have to come up with clutch hits. That can be a real difference.”
Cain knows his numbers. In the Royals’ two wins thus far, they’re 9 for 20 with runners in scoring position. In the three losses, they’re just 1 for 11. And not only are they struggling to produce, they’re not getting many opportunities. In the last 15 innings, not a single K.C. runner has even reached third base.
The overall numbers in the series reflect the struggles. The Royals have sickly digits, with a batting average of .221, a slugging percentage of .319 and an on-base mark of .253. Alex Gordon is just 2 for 20 in the series and Mike Moustakas is 3 for 16. If you take away Salvador Perez’s 6-for-17 output, the team batting average would be just .205.
“The key is I don’t care how many runs we score, just score one more run than they do,” Yost said. “Get us into that sixth or seventh inning with a one- or two-run lead and turn it over to the bullpen. That’s the plan.
“People say, ‘Well, this guy’s hitting .140 or he’s hitting .130.’ I don’t care. Everybody that is struggling to a point is still a threat. They can step up there in a big situation with one swing and change the ball game. That’s all I look for. Just score one more run than they do. I don’t care how we do it.”
To that end, Yost confirmed he’ll have a better offensive lineup to start with tonight. Nori Aoki will return to right field batting second and Billy Butler, who got just one at-bat in San Francisco, will be in his customary designated hitter slot. Yost also said Moustakas may be moved up in the lineup out of the No. 9 slot.
The Royals are back in their comfort zone, of course, because the American League, managed by Boston skipper and former Bisons pitcher John Farrell, won the All-Star Game in Minneapolis in July.
“It’s going to be a huge game and to play in front of the home crowd is going to be amazing,” Cain said. “We’re definitely going to be ready to get this thing going.”
“If we’re in this position, I would much rather be here than there, with our fans,” Yost said. “Home-field advantage is huge. I appreciate the efforts of John Farrell and the American League all-stars for providing that for us this year. It’s going to be a lot ‘funner’ going into Game Six here than it would be in San Francisco, that’s for sure.”