KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The player swinging one of the hottest bats for the scorching Royals looked so hopeless, so lost in May, his club sent him to the minors.
It was rock bottom of a disappointing career for Mike Moustakas, who had yet to live up to the hype that accompanied his being taken No. 2 overall in the 2007 draft.
Finally, it appears the 26-year-old might be coming into his own. Small sample size alert, however, it's only been six games.
Still, the third baseman entered Game 3 of the ALCS Tuesday night with a .318/.348/.864 slash line this postseason, all Royals' victories, with an MLB-high four homers.
"You really see what guys are made of in October," said Eric Hosmer, another cornerstone pick of the Royals, selected third overall in the 2008 draft. "He's really stepping it up."
As Moustakas put it to reporters after homering in a 6-4 victory in Game 2 in Baltimore: "Everything I went through this year led me to this point. And I couldn't ask for a better way to go about it."
It is safe to say almost no one saw it coming.
Certainly not May 22 when Moustakas, posting a .152/.223/.320 slash line, was sent to the minors.
"It's no secret I wasn't hitting good," Moustakas told reporters Monday after the announcement that Game 3 had been postponed because of rain. "There were things I needed to work on mentally and physically. Going down helped me catch my breath and kind of relax a little bit."
Moustakas stayed just 10 days with Triple-A Omaha, hitting .355 (11-for-31) with one homer and five RBIs in eight games, but didn't exactly get hot upon returning to the big leagues, though he was a bit better. Over the final 100 games of the season, Moustakas hit .235/.289/.377 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs, on his way to finishing the season with a .212 average with 15 homers and 54 RBIs. He hit no homers the final month of the season, one in which his slash line was an unimpressive .247/.287/.296 in 26 games.
Teammates, however, took notice of how Moustakas, already popular in the clubhouse, responded to the demotion.
"It's not easy getting sent down, going back to the minor leagues and trying to get back up here," Hosmer said. "He realized what he had to do and saw the big picture. It tells you the type of person he is, the type of player he is."
And, as reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson put it regarding Moustakas' mostly pedestrian regular season: "I'd rather hit the ball now than the regular season so we'll take it . . . All the [regular season] numbers go away now. It's a clean slate."
Royals manager Ned Yost said Moustakas had breakout springs the last two years but took on added pressure in the regular season.
"[The] last two springs he was the best player in baseball," Yost said. "He'd go through the entire spring with 35 RBIs, and hitting home runs off left and righthanders, and start pressing from the get-go at the start of the season."
Yost said in some ways the poor numbers as the season came to a close might have helped the third baseman.
"His focus was, I'm going to do whatever I need to do to win, and all of a sudden once the playoffs started it's not about the average anymore, all it's about is winning a baseball game," Yost said. "It's freed him up to come out and play his game as well as he's played. He's willing to do anything that he can to help this team win. And his average or his anything [else] doesn't come into play. It's all about his team."