NEW YORK — On an afternoon this summer, Royals manager Ned Yost placed his electronic tablet on his office desk and began scanning through old photos. The tablet — an oversized iPad with a case that functions as a stand — is never far from Yost’s side. In mornings at spring training, he’ll watch Netflix shows while walking on the treadmill. In afternoons during the season, he’ll track the Doppler radar on his weather app.
Yet in other moments, the device serves as his primary source of nostalgia, a portal to good memories. And so one day this season, Yost tapped on the Photos app, pulled up old pictures and told stories of hunting with buddies back home in Georgia and working on his friend Dale Earnhardt’s pit crew during the 1994 baseball strike.
“Lead rehydration engineer,” he said.
In the months between April and October, as the baseball season unspools and his team plays 162 games, this is about as nostalgic as Yost will get, at least publicly. He abstains from the overtly sentimental. He prefers a hardened, professional guise. He wants to show up each day and focus on winning that night, and he wants his players to do the same.
So on an afternoon last week in Toronto, as another loss came, as a playoff appearance seemed implausible, as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain headed toward free agency for the first time, Yost wasn’t quite ready to reflect. Not yet, he said.
But Monday morning, in the hours before an 11-3 loss to the New York Yankees in the Bronx, Yost finally relented.
“Regrets?” he said, reflecting on the second half. “No.”
The Royals (76-80) concluded an 11-game road trip here at Yankee Stadium, suffering another blowout loss in their final road contest of the year. As they completed a one-game makeup — a game originally rained out on May 25 — they packed their things and boarded a charter flight back to Kansas City. Across six games at Kauffman Stadium, they will attempt to say goodbye.
In practical terms, it means closing out this 2017 season, with their next loss or Minnesota Twins win officially eliminating them from playoff contention. Yet it also means the final days for an era of Royals baseball, a six-day paean for a collection of players who brought another world championship trophy and another parade for downtown.
“You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to spend the last six years with,” Cain said.
The Royals do not know what the future will be. In addition to Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and starter Jason Vargas will also be free agents. General manager Dayton Moore says the club will compete to sign its homegrown stars. And, still, it is possible that Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain could all play their final games as Royals this week. It is possible that what is left of the 2015 Royals will cease to exist. Yost was already thinking about the proper way to pay respect to his players and fan base.
“You’re definitely aware of the possibilities that could happen,” Yost said. “My mind-set is, ‘These guys have been going so hard this year and they’re all beat down to the point they’ve just been going full out.’
“You would really like to just give them a couple of days off. It’s hard to do because our fans are going to want to see them. They want to see them this last home stand.”
On July 30, Kansas City sat at 55-48 after a victory at Fenway Park. In the span of a week, they had acquired three pitchers from San Diego and outfielder Melky Cabrera from Chicago. Moore sought to supplement his core for another run. In the two months since, they have gone 21-32.
“It was a good run, but obviously it’s not enough,” Moustakas said. “These teams are doing pretty good right now.”
As he sat in his office, Yost said there was nothing he would do differently in August or September. Not in a big-picture sense. The move to acquire Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer from the Padres improved chemistry in the clubhouse. Cabrera offered another veteran bat in the lineup, even as rookie Jorge Bonifacio went to the bench.
“You give this group an opportunity to make it happen,” Yost said. “Just as a group, it didn’t happen.”
The Royals’ starting rotation entered Monday with a 5.58 ERA since the All-Star break. The bullpen was not much better, ranking 11th in the American League with a 4.40 mark in the second half. The offense improved after a dreadful start, but will likely finish in the bottom third. Entering Tuesday’s series opener against Detroit, the Royals are just 26-28 against the Twins, White Sox and Tigers, three divisional opponents they have handled in recent years.
“There were times where we just couldn’t score enough runs to win ballgames,” Yost said. “We just couldn’t beat teams we were supposed to beat. If you’re going to be a playoff contender, there’s certain teams you’re supposed to be able to beat. We just couldn’t do it.”
So now they will return to Kauffman Stadium for one last homestand. They will lament the missed opportunity in 2017. They will soak up cheers from a fan base grateful for the thrills of the past. They will show up each day and focus on winning that night, and in that way, Moustakas said, it will be the same as ever.
“It’s been a long season,” Moustakas said, pondering the emotions this week. “We play 162 games. So (we’re) just trying to keep each and every day (the same). Show up to the field, try and win ballgames. I think it will settle in when we get to the field.”