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Suddenly Royals manager Ned Yost becomes toast of baseball

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost celebrates their

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost celebrates their 2-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles to sweep the series in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 15, 2014 in Kansas City, Mo. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jamie Squire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The actor-comedian Paul Rudd, celebrity Royals fan, stood in shallow leftfield, lost amid the blue flood of players, surrounded by a sea of noise gushing from every seat still filled at Kauffman Stadium.

They had waited 29 years for this, since George Brett led the Royals to the franchise's one-and-only World Series title over the Cardinals, and Rudd seemed a bit disoriented. We waited for a snappy one-liner, something funny to put this ridiculously amazing Royals' team in context.

But that never came from Rudd. Instead, we found our improbable hero across the infield dirt. That's where Ned Yost, the Royals' human piñata of a manager, was enjoying the last laugh. His team remains unbeaten (8-0) in these playoffs, and after Wednesday's 2-1 victory completed a four-game sweep of the Orioles, Yost was feeling pretty invincible himself.

"I get criticized all the time -- I'm the dumbest manager in baseball," Yost said. "I'm OK with that. I don't need validation, man. If people ask me about it, I don't need it. I'm real comfortable with myself. I know who I am and what I'm about."

Yost could have been speaking for the entire Royals franchise, which hadn't produced a playoff team since the Reagan administration. We found out Wednesday just how loud three decades of pent-up frustration can be when it's finally unleashed. It was only fitting that the final out came on Mike Moustakas' bullet throw to Eric Hosmer, the twin pillars of a Royals' youth moment that began October as an underdog and emerged the American League champion.

What's unfolding now in Kansas City isn't just a dream. For the Royals, it is beyond imagination.

"Something like this," reliever Wade Davis said, "only happens to certain people once in a lifetime in baseball."

But there's no point in worrying about the rarity of it all. Or whether we're witnessing the Halley's comet of postseason runs -- which we are, by the way. No team ever began the playoffs on an 8-0 streak, and regardless of who survives the NLCS, does anyone doubt the Royals' ability to run the table?

Before Wednesday, maybe we would have pointed to Yost as the weak link, the bunt-happy, Moneyball-defying manager that everyone figured would sabotage the Royals' youthful potential. Yost had his paint-by-numbers bullpen, his pinch runners, what we all perceived to be a nervous hand on the wheel.

Yost heard it. As did his players. And now we've stopped thinking that the Royals are winning despite of Yost. Somewhere along this growth chart -- from Cinderella to giant-slayer -- this team didn't think it could lose again.

"One thing we felt from Day 1 is these players would go out and give us an effort because they love to play," Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "When you give that type of effort, you're going to get better. And then if you keep getting better, you might end up being good.

"Who knows how good. But right now, they're on a pretty good run."

There's no reason to believe it won't continue. In Wednesday's clincher, the Royals took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Alcides Escobar kicked the ball loose from the glove of catcher Caleb Joseph and Nori Aoki also hustled in from third as the Orioles chased after it. The Royals never crossed the plate again. And didn't need to.

"Something clicked," Yost said, "and all of a sudden these guys were immune to any type of pressure, any type of situation, and they totally believed."

A joke no more, the Royals are making believers of everyone else, too.

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