Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost is a testament to the thrill of victory, and the agony of hearing about it.
Before Tuesday, Yost could have walked through almost any airport terminal in America and not been recognized. But then the Royals took the field for a wild card game — emphasis on the wild — against the Oakland A’s. Kansas City’s first appearance of a national stage since 1985 coincided with the 60-year-old Yost’s playoff debut as a manager.
The Royals won the 4-hour, 45-minute marathon, 9-8, by scoring twice in the bottom of the 12th, setting off a celebration that, under other circumstances, should have made their skipper the toast of his long-suffering town. Yost was toasted, all right, as in charbroil grilled to a crisp by TBS studio analyst Pedro Martinez, who didn’t agree with Yost’s decision to replace starting pitcher James Shields with rookie Yordano Ventura in the top of the sixth.
“Another panic move for Ned Yost,” Martinez called it. “He almost gave the game away. If Kansas City ends up losing that game, Ned Yost would have been the ugly goat heading out of Kansas City today.”
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Did I mention Yost’s team was playing its the first postseason game since 1985?
The strategy Yost used, to be sure, was unconventional. Shields, nursing a 3-2 lead with two on and no out, didn’t appear tired after throwing 88 pitches. Ventura, a rookie with little experience as a reliever, was two days removed from a Sunday start that concluded with a pitch count of 73.
Furthermore, like Shields, Ventura is a right-hander who didn’t match up with the left-handed hitting Brandon Moss. The Royals’ bullpen is deep, flexible and talented, and it provided Yost a number of options to attack Moss with a lefty.
But Yost summoned Ventura, and when Moss connected on a 2-0 fastball clobbered halfway to the moon, that 3-2 lead was a 5-3 deficit, about to become a 7-3 deficit.
After the Royals’ comeback, Yost explained that “we wanted to bring the gas for the sixth inning, and we wanted to bring the gas for the seventh.”
Countered Martinez via Twitter: “What Ned Yost is saying about bringing in Ventura, it’s horrible. How much gas do you want? Why don’t you just go and get a gas station?”
Welcome, Ned, to the playoffs, when managers used to working in relative privacy are exposed to a coast-to-coast audience teeming with critics. The MLB playoffs are different from, say, the NFL playoffs, which usually pit teams and coaches that are familiar with the public.
Then again, while the NFL appeals to an expansive audience (it’s why there’s no franchise in Los Angeles), baseball is driven by local markets (it’s why there are two franchises in Los Angeles). Ratings for nationally televised NFL games during the regular season trump those of MLB games by margins that prompt the question: Is anybody watching baseball?
Of course people are watching baseball (and listening to it on the radio, too). But most people only have eyes for the team they follow. If Ned Yost made any head-scratching moves when the Royals visited Safeco Field over four days in May, or when the Mariners traveled to Kansas City for a three-game series the following month, the moves likely weren’t analyzed by Mariners fans too busy dissecting the tactics of manager Lloyd McClendon to care about the guy in opposing dugout.
That parochial dynamic changes in the playoffs, when teams such as the Royals are introduced to a whole new world. Absent any power hitters, the AL’s wild card winners manufacture runs with speed and finesse orchestrated by a hands-on manager helplessly in love with the debatable virtues of the sacrifice bunt.
By the way, Yost’s reliance on potential ace Ventura to escape from a sixth-inning jam wasn’t his only weird gambit. He called for a double steal with Billy Butler at first and Eric Hosmer at third — neither player ever has been described as “fleet” — in the misguided hope the A’s would concentrate on Butler as Hosmer scurried home.
How could any of this go wrong?
The ensuing double play gave TBS viewers an early cue about the Royals: Win or lose, Yost’s fingerprints — all-thumbs prints, actually — will be all over the box score.
It took the Royals 29 years to qualify for the postseason, and one inning for their manager to join the confederacy of dunces whose strategies have backfired under the brightest of lights.
Again, Ned, welcome to the playoffs. You might have put yourself in position to be recalled as the “ugly goat” who cost Kansas City a wild-card victory, but the bottom line reads like this:
Royals 9, A’s 8.