Dayton Moore tapped his hand against the back of a bench. Seated next to him, Ned Yost kicked his foot up against a nearby railing. Together they sat inside the visitors’ dugout at U.S. Cellular Field and watched the latest edition of the Royals take batting practice.
Moore built this roster. Yost guides it. Shortly before Moore flew into Chicago to visit his freefalling club, he delivered a vote of confidence for his manager, despite the team’s blend of lethargy and ineffectiveness during the second half, and insisted his job was not in danger.
“All of our success in this organization is tied together,” Moore told The Star in a telephone conversation. “We’ve fought through some challenging times in the past. We’ll do it again. Together.”
Here in 2014, a season ticketed for October during the halcyon days of spring, the failures outnumber the successes, even after Tuesday night’s result. With Moore on hand, the Royals (49-50) picked up just their second victory in their last night games, a 7-1 decision over the White Sox.
Mike Moustakas boomed the team’s first home run since July 10 with a second-inning solo shot, and added his 12th of the season with a two-run blast in the eighth. Billy Butler and Raul Ibanez smacked doubles to spark a four-run sixth inning. Bruce Chen strung together five useful frames of his own, and tied Mariano Rivera’s record for most victories ever by a Panamanian (82).
The combination allowed the Royals to celebrate for the first time since the All-Star break. The odds against them are still long. One productive inning off White Sox swingman Scott Carroll cannot cure all of their offensive ills. But the night represented progress for a team attempting to claw back into the playoff hunt.
After being swept in Boston, one team official estimated the Royals required 40 victories in the final 65 games to make a legitimate run. One down, 39 to go. As the losses piled up, the Royals exhausted options from the playbook of desperation. They called their second closed-door meeting in three days on Tuesday afternoon.
On Sunday, Yost had addressed the team after a dismal effort against Red Sox ace Jon Lester. Two days later, the clubhouse emptied around 4 p.m. as the group gathered away from the prying eyes of reporters. Participants called the meeting “necessary” and “productive” and all the other platitudes players spout when their bats have ceased speaking.
The parlor tricks mask the actual issue. A lack of offensive production has plagued the Royals all season long. Their production in June, when they surged to top of the American League Central for a three-day spell, represented the outlier. The team entered the day ranked 14th in the American League in runs, 14th in on-base plus slugging percentage and last in home runs.
The Royals remain in the market for upgrades in right field, at designated hitter and in the bullpen. For now, the roster is static. The improvements must come from within.
A third-inning sequence was emblematic of the torture the club inflicts on viewers. Alex Gordon opened the frame with a ground-rule double, and his teammates eventually loaded the bases. With one out, Butler stepped to the plate. He chopped the first pitch he saw, a harmless curve, into an inning-ending double play.
Or there was this vexing moment in the fourth: Ibanez rifled a hit into the right field corner. It was just his second knock since July 2. He was promptly thrown out trying to stretch a double.
Butler and Ibanez atoned in the sixth. Butler started the inning with his second double of the month. Ibanez plated him by dunking another double into right.
From here, the White Sox collapsed. After a single by Alcides Escobar, catcher Adrian Nieto surrendered a passed ball that brought Ibanez in from third. Replacing Carroll, reliever Javy Guerra threw away a bunt single by Jarrod Dyson to allow another run. A sacrifice fly from Omar Infante capped the scoring.
Moustakas etched the exclamation point in the eighth. With a runner at first, White Sox lefty Eric Surkamp left an 89-mph fastball over the middle. Moustakas detonated the ball over the fence in right.
The Royals have experienced nights like this before. During one blessed stretch in June, they experienced 10 in a row. It is why Moore and Yost refuse to throw in the towel on their season.
“We’re going to keep pushing until the standings say that we’re done,” Moore said. “We’re going to keep pushing.”