A week ago Monday, the Royals had lost their seventh game in a row to tumble to 14-28. Particularly in this condensed and bizarre season of the pandemic, which in historical context figures to stand as something between a curiosity and inauthentic, that funk might well have been enough to snuff out any lingering reason to pay attention.
It also could have doused any compelling incentive for the team to keep believing and playing hard and staying with the process and each other.
But somehow the last week has seen a revival featuring, among other key developments: Brady Singer’s tantalizing flirtation with a no-hitter; fellow rookie Kris Bubic first major-league win (and at long-last Kyle Zimmer’s, too); the emphatic return of Sal Perez; the cementing of Brad Keller’s role as No. 1 starter; and, perhaps most pivot, the resurgence of Adalberto Mondesi.
So before they won their seemingly improbable sixth straight game by clobbering Pittsburgh 11-0 Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, it seemed worth asking first-year manager Mike Matheny how much different it had felt to go to work the previous few days.
Thoughtful as he has unfailingly been in this peculiar time in the game and the world, Matheny’s answer resonated.
That was both as it applies to the Royals but, yet again, as something we might all heed.
“I can say this in all honesty: I’ve enjoyed coming to the ballpark with this club every single day,” he began.
Because even as he considers where this team began and this season’s implication for the future, he is riveted to the present.
So the words may change, but the message remains the same: Keep competing, keep working to improve … and every day is its own story.
“Let’s go play today, and not get distracted by standings, not get distracted by predictions or odds,” he said. “That stuff doesn’t matter; what matters is how we go about our business. …
“Nobody can tell us what we can’t do. They can’t tell us that we’re limited to one thing or another. We’ve got an opportunity to go out and actually do it.”
That’s easy to say, of course. But such words can be hard to fully convey or embrace or execute — on the field and off.
While Matheny didn’t explicitly suggest any parallel to navigating the COVID-19 coronavirus, it reminded me that the idea of seizing the day despite everything coming at us has been a persistent and helpful theme of his.
That thinking about being in the moment has struck me as constructive since I spoke with him in April about the psychological battle of all this.
(Even if, alas, I haven’t quite followed his lead to learn an instrument or refresh all that Spanish gone dormant and such.)
Even for those who aren’t ill or caring for those who are or on the front lines or desperate for work, the virus is ever-present in that way.
“So you can either do something productive or else you just end up wasting time,” he said then. “And next thing you know, you look up and it’s later than you want it to be.”
So it may feel like Groundhog Day, at least the 1993 movie version in which Bill Murray relives the same day over and over. It may feel like just another day to get toward the other side.
But it’s still a day of your life to do with as you can.
So it seems with the Royals, who out of any race as they might be clearly remain engaged and impassioned and worth watching.
Never mind that they were still 11 games back in the American League Central as of Monday with their next series starting Tuesday at Detroit, still well on the outside of making the AL playoffs even in the revised eight-team format in each league for this season.
There’s still plenty to play for now, for today in itself and toward shaping their future.
While the bullpen has stayed strong and defense and baserunning have been assets nearly all season, starting pitching has stabilized and so has both situational and timely hitting.
At one point, they were so wretched with the bases loaded that I remember a wise-guy on Twitter (wish I could remember who it was) saying something like, “The Royals rallied to load the bases, thus ending the rally.”
Add it all up, and from small things the big things can come.
Matheny said he never lost hope and never doubted this team, which surely is what he must say yet stated with such conviction as to be persuasive.
Just the same, he knows it’s a franchise coming out of back-to-back 100-loss seasons and trying to find traction ahead and that at some point sustaining faith requires results.
“I want these guys to believe and to see what I see and what I believe about them,” he said, adding that the streak “kind of validate(s) the things that we’re seeing and the messages that we’re trying to continually (send).
“They’re just now starting to see a glimpse of what we believe they can be.”
Now, whatever happens down the stretch, the Royals will come out of this season with more questions than answers, starting with what might be expected of Mondesi after he labored most of the season.
And however we come to define the broader 2020 season for Major League Baseball, its place in Royals history is destined to be about to what degree it sets a cultural tone and template for the next few years.
But that story also is happening in real time now, in the day-in, day-out grind of a season that is freshly intriguing when it was on the verge of being squandered.
Because today is another day, which turns out still can be a good thing.
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