KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A grin spread across Ned Yost’s face inside his office. It was Monday afternoon, a full day before a 9-5 victory over Cleveland that boosted the Royals’ record back to .500, and a reporter had mentioned the perception that Yost is “stubborn” because he refuses to shuffle his batting order.
“How am I stubborn?” he asked, his tone toeing the line between mockery and incredulity. “Because I won’t do what people that don’t really have any experience doing this want me to do? And that makes me stubborn?”
When the response was affirmative, Yost appeared almost gleeful. He shook his head and smiled. “Well,” he continued, “it doesn’t matter. I’m going to do what I know what is right. I’m not going to bow to any pressure to move guys because writers or fans or radio people want me to.”
A day later, Yost had even more reason to grin – even before his team recorded their first three-homer game of the season. In the first half of a two-game series with the Indians, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler – his much-maligned hitters batting second through fourth – drove in four runs in a third-inning rally.
Then the long balls fell: Hosmer clobbered a two-run shot in the fifth, Alex Gordon added a solo shot in the eighth, and Mike Moustakas clanged a two-run job off the right-field foul pole three batters later amid the misty conditions.
“It’s crazy, because the ball really didn’t seem like it was traveling that much today,” Hosmer said. “And then we hit some big shots.”
The offense buoyed Jason Vargas (6-2, 3.30 ERA), who baffled Cleveland until the eighth inning. He tired and allowed three runs in his final frame. Aaron Crow gave up two more in the ninth.
Despite the late-game angst, the pitchers still held the line as the Royals (32-32) worked to reverse a troubling trend. Prior to Tuesday, they had only won six of their 21 games against opponents from the American League Central.
The Indians stormed into Kauffman Stadium with nine wins in their last 10 games. They had amassed 17 runs the night before, and on Tuesday started a pitcher who had overwhelmed the Royals in their last encounter. On April 24, a brisk day at Progressive Field, Corey Kluber authored first complete game of his career, a four-hit mastering of his guests.
Two of those hits belonged to Jarrod Dyson. He received a start in the place of Nori Aoki on Tuesday. Dyson stroked a single to open the bottom of the first. Two pitches later, the inning was over: Infante bounced into a double play, and Hosmer grounded out.
The construction of the Royals lineup continues to vex observers. Infante entered Tuesday with one hit in his previous 21 at-bats. Hosmer was batting .167 during his last 26 games. And Butler has yet to break free from a season-long power outage.
And yet all three come to the plate more often than Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, the team’s two most productive hitters. Yost has yet to budge. He believes juggling the batting order would disrupt the psyche of his players.
“I still have confidence that these guys are going to start hitting their career norms here pretty quick,” he said. “And put some runs on the board.”
In the third inning, the group rewarded him for his obstinacy. Moustakas opened the door with a one-out walk and Alcides Escobar slapped a single to left. The Indians provided some help – when Dyson grounded into a potential double play, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera dropped the feed at second base. “That one big break helped us out,” Moustakas said.
Here came the players Yost refuses to move: Infante dunked an RBI single into center. Kluber fell behind Hosmer, but still shattered his bat with a 3-1 slider. At first base, converted catcher Carlos Santana bobbled the baseball. The Indians could only record an out at first, and the Royals had their second run.
They doubled that total two pitches later. Butler shot a single through the right side of the infield, near an area vacated by second baseman Jason Kipnis’ shift.
Vargas felt able to exhale. Until the eighth inning, he didn’t allow more than one runner per inning. Granted the lead, he felt compelled to “put the pressure on them,” he said.
“You don’t want to be pitching zero-zero ballgames all the time,” he said. “You just try to go right after them, attack them.”
A similar tack failed for Kluber. Hosmer punished a knee-high fastball for his third homer of the season. Three innings later, Gordon and Moustakas created more cushion for Crow.
And Yost had only more reason to believe in his group. As he entered for his post-game press conference, a team official mentioned the bidding for the team’s “Broadcast Experience,” a package auctioned to benefit the team’s charity wing, had topped $5,000.
Part of the experience? A chance to sit in on interviews with the manager.
“Must be somebody,” Yost said, “who doesn’t think I’m so stubborn.”