Not at all, the players said. But they were frustrated by playing so poorly. They did not want to squander their last chance to win as teammates.
“We all know the situation, we all know we’re gonna be free agents at the end of the year, we understand that,” Cain said. “I don’t think anyone’s going up there saying, ‘We need to do this or that.’ But it’s a meeting that needed to be held. We needed to sit down and talk and try to figure out a game plan to turn things around. We didn’t do it right away, but we continued to get stronger together.”
The Royals have won 33 of 51 games since June 1, the second-best record in the majors in that span. The only team to do better is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have gone 29 years since their last World Series appearance. If that sounds familiar, it could be because that was the same drought the Royals endured before 2014, when they swept through the A.L. playoffs.
That season ended with a one-run loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the World Series, but the Royals staged a stirring follow-up against the Mets in 2015. While the Mets led for more innings of that World Series, the Royals won in five games, underscoring their resilience. Even after a .500 finish last season, the front office would not give up on a group like that.
“That’s the way we feel,” Yost said. “They earned it. They built a legacy here, and we want to give them one more chance to finish it out together.”
General Manager Dayton Moore did trade two veterans last winter, sending closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs and outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners. Neither move has helped much yet, but Moore said he never seriously considered dealing his core stars. The Royals had already passed up their best chance for a strong return on trades.
“If you were going to maximize value of our free agents, the time to do that would have been after the ’15 season, when they had two years of control left,” Moore said. “That’s when you’re going to strike really good deals. Well, we’d just won a World Series. We simply were not going to do that. And there was no reason to do that, because you’re trying to continue to win, be a special part of the history of the game.”
Moore joined the Royals in 2006, devising a plan to build around speed and defense to fit a spacious home stadium and a modest budget. He has executed the strategy with patience, discipline and a deep sense of duty to the players. In December 2012 — after the Royals’ ninth losing season in a row — he sent four top prospects to Tampa Bay for Davis and a top starter, James Shields.
Moore was widely criticized for that deal, but he said he owed it to the players to show faith in their progress. They responded, and appreciate the continuing support. Sunday’s deal was Moore’s second in a week; he also acquired pitchers Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill and Brandon Maurer from the San Diego Padres last Monday.
“That’s what everybody loves about Dayton,” Cain said. “He’s never given up on us. He’s always believed in us, and he’s stayed strong to his word.”
The players showed the same traits on Sunday, trailing in the eighth inning and storming ahead with a four-run rally, capped by an Alex Gordon triple. Later, they watched on television as Matt Davidson of the White Sox hit a homer to beat the Indians, nudging the Royals closer to first. The clubhouse erupted in cheers.
The Royals are going for it again, together, one last time.
“If we’re struggling and we’re not really in it as a team, it’s easier for guys to think about maybe leaving or getting traded away,” Hosmer said. “But we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re all in the same boat individually. We’re all fighting towards a pennant right now, so it’s easy to put that stuff past you.”
An earlier version of this article misidentified the Kansas City Royals’ shortstop. He is Alcides Escobar, not Yunel Escobar.
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