By Phil Rogers
KANSAS CITY -- All around him was chaos, yet Ned Yost may have been the calmest man at Kauffman Stadium.
When Mike Moustakas threw across the infield to send the Royals to the World Series, their manager allowed himself one quick release. He shot his arms up in the air, but he didn't keep them there long. He was quickly embraced by Don Wakamatsu, his bench coach, and then swallowed up in a group hug with other coaches.
When it broke up, some of the men ran onto the infield to join the players, who were celebrating around Greg Holland, the closer who saved all four games in the stunning sweep of the Orioles. Fans in the stands cheered and danced, with one holding up a sign that proclaimed "This is Really Happening!''
Yost held his ground in the dugout, letting that reality sink in for the team he has been with for five years. The Royals, a Wild Card team that had been a 48-50 enigma at one point in late July, really are going to the World Series.
"I just wanted to see their enjoyment,'' Yost said later, before the celebration moved from the infield to the home clubhouse. "I wanted to see their satisfaction. I wanted to see them celebrate together out there, because I know what this means to them. These kids, from the minute you saw them, you knew they were going to be special.
"Then they won championships in A ball together and they won championships in Double-A together and they won championships in Triple-A together. And then their goal was to get up here and win a championship, and today they accomplished that.''
They did it with their manager, not in spite of him. There's been no easier target in baseball over the last decade than Yost. But he never crumbled under the relentless criticism that could easily have broken him.
"Ned's a very thick-skinned person,'' Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "I've said it many times. He's an incredible leader and he's very passionate. He's the most competitive person I know. He's very positive. He's always very optimistic and he just loves to compete. Him and the coaching staff have done an incredible job just creating an atmosphere where our players can come out and do what they do best."
Yet it's easy for fans and analysts to see Yost as simply an old-school leader with a career losing record (830-904) who was fired by the Brewers with 12 days left in the season in 2008. The Brewers then won a Wild Card spot without him. He is ridiculed by stats-driven columnists and commentators for frequent bunts and an absence of defensive shifts, among other things.
But don't even think about listing Yost's 10 luckiest moments in October. He believed in his team above all else, he let the players win or lose games with their talent, and he was smart enough to turn games over to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland in the late innings.
Not that you had to be very smart to do that.
When Yost did try to get creative, using starter Yordano Ventura out of the bullpen in the Wild Card Game against Oakland, it blew up on him and almost kept the Royals' wild ride into October from getting off the ground.
After the 2-1 victory in the ALCS clincher, in which starter Jason Vargas and the bullpen protected a lead for eight innings, the Royals are the first team to ever go 8-0 in a single postseason. Give Yost credit for not reacting when booing fans crushed him when he came out to the mound to lift Ventura after his failed relief stint against the A's.
"They were booing me, but more than anything else it was their frustration of 29 years of losing that prompted that,'' said Yost, whose team is the first Royals squad to reach the World Series since 1985. "I understand that. I understand the frustration in that. And I knew that even though it was directed at me, it was the frustration there. I've got to say it's just like water off a duck's back.
"I don't really pay no attention to it because I understand what we're trying to do. I understand the thought process behind it. And when it doesn't work out, I know you're going to be criticized. That's just the way things go nowadays. And you get criticized when things go right. So what does it matter?''
A long-time disciple of Bobby Cox who played for Harvey Kuenn, Yost always deflects credit to his players. He did it when the Royals clinched a playoff spot on the last Friday of the regular season in Chicago, standing in a quiet hallway outside the noisy clubhouse and saying there was no particular personal significance to him getting a team into the postseason for the first time in his 11 years as a manager.
"The only reason I do this job is for [my players],'' Yost said then. "I've been to the World Series. I've been to the World Series six times. What I do is for them. I feel good watching them play and watching them develop. That's my reward.''
When the World Series starts here next Tuesday, in a sea of blue-clad fans before the fountains that are the trademark of a classic stadium that has aged well, Yost will be managing against either the Giants' Bruce Bochy or the Cardinals' Mike Matheny. He'll be in the Series for the seventh time. That's as many as Derek Jeter.
Of course this may be the first time that anybody outside of Yost's immediate family knows he's there. He went as catcher as Ted Simmons' understudy with the 1982 Brewers and then five times as a member of Cox's coaching staff with the Braves.
But he earned every one of those trips to baseball's biggest stage, just like he did the one he is about to take. Moore, the general manager who hired him, called Yost "an unbelievable leader'' during the post-game ceremony, when Royals chairman David Glass accepted the William Harridge Trophy, and American League Championship Series MVP Lorenzo Cain praised him for his patient handling of the team.
"He's definitely stuck by us when some people might not have, might have given up on us,'' Cain said. "He's allowed us to be ourselves and go out and play the game and have fun. We definitely had our ups and downs throughout the season. But he didn't give up. He stuck with us guys. It paid off in the end.''
Could it have been that hard to stick with guys like Cain, Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez? This postseason run has shown that Moore and Yost (who played a huge role in the trade that brought Cain and Alcides Escobar from the Brewers) have built a complete team, loaded with complete players.
It's going to be a blast watching them go head-to-head with the National League champ. The Kansas City manager will do his best not to get in the way.
Here's hoping Ned jumps in the pile if they wind up winning it all. He's earned his moment, too.
Phil Rogers is a contributor to Sports on Earth and a columnist for MLB.com. He previously wrote for the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News.