KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The last time the Kansas City Royals played postseason baseball, in 1985, Ned Yost was a Triple-A catcher for the Indianapolis Indians, the top farm club for the Montreal Expos.
Yost, a catcher, was 30 and the 1985 season was to be his last shot in the big leagues. He played in five games with Montreal that season and went 2 for 11.
Yost had played previously for the Milwaukee Brewers (four seasons) and Texas Rangers (one). He was never a great player and he finished his career with a .212 batting average, 16 homers and 84 RBIs in 219 games.
Somewhere along the line, though, Yost made an ally in Hall of Fame Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. Yost joined the Braves as Cox’s bullpen coach from 1991-98 and was the team’s third-base coach from 1999-2002, when he left to become the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Until this season, I was a devout believer that Yost would never win anything. The Royals have proven me wrong.
Their upside-down, 9-8 win over Oakland in the American League Wild Card game Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium was one for the ages. And one that aged its fans.
Yost made a terrible move in the sixth inning when he removed bulldog starter James Shields after the A’s put their first two runners on with a broken-bat single and a walk. KC trailed 3-2.
We can argue all day about whether taking Shields, the ace of the Kansas City staff, was the right decision. But it’s clear that bringing rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura in for only his second relief appearance was wrong.
Ventura relieved Bruce Chen during a July 13 game against Detroit in Kansas City. With one out in the sixth, and the Tigers leading 2-0 Chen allowed an infield single. Ventura retired the next two hitters, then worked a scoreless seventh. Ventura was working on three days rest from his previous start, when he threw 104 pitches in a 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tuesday night, the pressure was enormous. Two on, no outs in the biggest Royals game in 29 years. Plus, Ventura had thrown 73 pitches Sunday in the regular-season finale against the Chicago White Sox.
Bringing him into the game wasn’t a Yost move that was second-guessed, as so many of his decisions have been. There were a litany of first guessers this time. In fact, no one that I know have has figured out a solid defense of Yost’s move except, of course, Yost himself.
“You know, when we have these games, we map out our pitching, and we try to cover all scenarios,” a champagne-drenched Yost said 30 minutes after the game. “If something happens early, we've got (Jeremy) Guthrie. If we get it past the fifth inning, we're going with our power arms.
“We had the decision there between Ventura, (Brandon) Finnegan and (Danny) Duffy. All three young guys. Ventura came into a game earlier this year and actually won it for us by throwing an inning and two thirds of relief. He was lights-out, and we got to that point where we just wanted to bring the gas. We wanted to bring the gas for the sixth, we wanted to bring the gas for the seventh with (Kelvin) Hererra, Wade (Davis) and Holly (Greg Holland) with a one-run lead and it just didn't work out."
It didn’t work out, at least in part, because it was a bad decision.
I was disappointed to hear Shields defend the move, saying that it was the right call. That may simply be a case of Shields trying to deflect any negativity as his team prepares to face the Los Angeles Angels in the AL Division Series starting Thursday night in Anaheim.
I wonder what Shields would have said had the Royals not rallied from a 7-3 deficit – one created by a three-run homer by Brandon Moss against Ventura, plus an additional sixth-inning run – to win in 12 innings?
It’s strange that Yost, a former catcher and bullpen coach, doesn’t have a better idea about how to handle pitchers.
Ventura was shaky from the get-go, falling behind Moss 2-0 before serving up the long ball. He’s a young guy with tremendous ability, but Yost had better options for that kind of tough spot.
One of the most surreal moments of Tuesday was when Yost finally came to the mound to remove Ventura after the A’s had a four-run lead. A chorus of boos rained from the sellout crowd of more than 40,000. They were jeering the manager who led their team to the postseason for the first time in nearly three decades. They were letting him know, again, that things aren’t all right.
But the Royals won. They pulled it off. They fought and clawed and stole seven bases and laid down four sacrifice bunts. They figured out a way to win and bail out their manager, whose only postseason experience as a player came with the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Yost pinch hit for Ted Simmons in the ninth inning of Game 6. There were two outs and the Cardinals led, 13-1. He drew a walk.