Credit Where Credit is Due – Ned Yost ; Midseason NCAA Awards

ned yost

NED YOST HAS EARNED HIS MOMENT

By Phil Rogers www.sportsonearth.com

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.

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dasn mullen

MATT BROWN MORE FROM MATT

www.sportsonearth.com

MIDSEASON COLLEGE FOOTBALL AWARDS

Vic Beasley, Dak Prescott and Myles Garrett are among the top performers of the first half of the college football season. (USA TODAY Sports) The college football season is so short, yet even at only the halfway point, it’s amazing how much has changed and how much is still likely to change. Mississippi State, unranked in the preseason polls, currently sits at No. 1, displacing undefeated defending national champion Florida State. UCLA and South Carolina, both ranked in the preseason top 10, have fallen out of the entire top 25. Texas A&M has gone from rebuilding to No. 6 to rebuilding in a matter of weeks.

And yet we still hardly know anything. Go back and look at last year’s AP poll after Week 7: Eventual national champion Florida State was ranked No. 5, two spots below the No. 3 Clemson team it was about to blow out on the road. Texas Tech was 6-0 and ranked No. 16; it finished 8-5. Eventual SEC champion and national runner-up Auburn was ranked 24th, two spots behind Florida, which didn’t win a game the rest of the season. Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State wasn’t even in the top 25. Overall, at this point last year, participants in BCS bowl games were No. 1 (Alabama), 3 (Clemson), 4 (Ohio State), 5 (Florida State), 12 (Baylor), 13 (Stanford), 18 (Oklahoma), 24 (Auburn) and unranked (Michigan State, UCF).

The point being: Nothing is ever decided after just seven weeks into the season. Nevertheless, we are at the unofficial halfway point, with most teams having played six games of their 12-game regular season schedules, and with seven weeks remaining, then conference championship weekend in Week 15. So halfway through, here’s who has headlined the college football season so far. Remember, these are not predictions of who will eventually win; these are assessments based on first-half resumes.

Halfway Heisman

1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State. As always, the Heisman does not necessarily go to the most outstanding player in college football; it goes to the defining player of a season. In many cases, a player covers both of those descriptions. With running back Todd Gurley sidelined for now, it’s not hard to decide on Prescott, who’s a deserving candidate. He’s the breakout star for a Bulldogs team that has risen to No. 1 from unranked, behind convincing wins over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Prescott is getting comparisons to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton as the perfect quarterback for Dan Mullen’s offense, a power runner who can throw.

He ranks eighth nationally in yards per attempt (9.5) and 10th in passer rating (165.6), completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,478 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s not the most accurate passer in the country, but he’s deadly throwing downfield on play-action, working off his ability to run. He’s also been stellar on third down, leading the nation in third-down passer rating (221.6). On the ground, he’s fourth among quarterbacks in rushing yards, piling up 576 yards and eight touchdowns on 106 carries.

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Still the most talented all-around quarterback in the country, combining efficient passing with explosive running. Mariota was put in a bad situation for a couple weeks thanks to injuries to three of his tackles, but fortunately Jake Fisher returned in Week 7. After taking 12 sacks in a close win over Washington State and the loss to Arizona, Mariota took none as Oregon easily beat UCLA on the road to keep his playoff hopes alive and reinvigorate Mariota’s Heisman campaign. When healthy, perhaps no player is better.

Despite the issues in the first half of the season, Mariota has completed 69.7 of his passes for 1,621 yards (10.5 per attempt) with 17 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s thrown only four interceptions since the start of 2012. While offensive coordinator Scott Frost claimed Mariota wasn’t 100 percent after the Arizona game, and though the line has been problematic, he’s still second on the Ducks in rushing, with 290 yards and five touchdowns on 49 attempts, which includes sacks.

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. Whatever, let’s honor him here anyway. Had it not been for his indefinite suspension for allegedly accepting money for autographing memorabilia, Gurley would likely be at the top of the list. But he didn’t play in Georgia’s win over Missouri on Saturday, and it’s unclear when or if he’ll return to the field at all this season. When he did play, no player jumped off the screen more. Gurley ranks third nationally in yards per game at 154.6, despite occasionally rotating out because of Georgia’s previous backfield depth. Additionally, he averages 8.2 yards per carry, totaling 773 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 attempts. He also has 11 catches, and he also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown against Clemson.

Next In Line: Baylor QB Bryce Petty, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon, Nebraska RB, Ameer Abdullah, Alabama WR Amari Cooper, Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, Florida State QB Jameis Winston

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley is certainly helped by those around him, as Clemson’s loaded defensive front — including tackle Grady Jarrett — prevents offenses from focusing all their attention on the All-American end. Still, Beasley has been phenomenal again, returning to school and building on last year’s breakout campaign. He has at least one sack in every game, including two against Florida State, as he got the best of star Seminoles tackle Cameron Erving after Erving won the individual battle last season. Beasley’s eight sacks place him third nationally, and he also has a forced fumble and a touchdown.

2. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia and Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma. Their stats don’t stand out like some others, but perhaps no individuals attract more attention from offenses than these two. Floyd, a sophomore, plays outside in Georgia’s 3-4 alignment, where he’s recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and nine quarterback hurries. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Floyd is small for a pro pass rusher, but he has a size advantage over Striker, who’s Oklahoma’s movable chess piece on defense. The 6-foot, 220-pound Striker can line up anywhere, blitzing from all angles while also being able to drop back into coverage. He has 4 ½ sacks, 8 ½ tackles for loss and 28 tackles.

3. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington. This could easily be teammate Hau’oli Kikaha, who leads the nation with 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in six games. Teammates DT Danny Shelton and CB Marcus Peters are also having big years too but this loaded Huskies defense. But we’ll give the edge to the versatile, athletic, do-it-all Thompson, who can play running back, defensive back and linebacker. He’s tied for the Washington team lead in touchdowns with five — more than SMU’s entire team — and four of them have come on defense.

Next In Line: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, USC DL Leonard Williams, Ole Miss S Cody Prewitt

Freshman of the Year

1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M. The Aggies defense has its share of problems, but Garrett — one of the top recruits in the class of 2014 — has turned around the pass rush almost by himself. In seven games, Garrett has 7 ½ sacks, and with only one more he’ll break Jadeveon Clowney’s freshman record. Fueled by Garrett, Texas A&M already has as many sacks (21) in seven games as it had all of last season in 13 games.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Watson gets the spot even though 1) he didn’t open the year as starter and 2) we won’t see him for a month after he broke a bone in his hand against Louisville. When given an opportunity, though, Watson has shined, hardly looking like a freshman as he made a smooth transition into Chad Morris’ offense despite playing in a rebuilt offense that lost stars at every position. In parts of six games, Watson has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,175 yards (10.5 per attempt), with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions, and he’s rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns. If you want to start talking now about breakthrough Heisman candidates for next year, start here.

3. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama. It wasn’t hard to imagine Robinson having a big freshman season, given that Nick Saban entrusted him with the starting left tackle job as a true freshman in front of a new quarterback. A five-star recruit who was in for spring, Robinson has put his NFL potential on display early on in his career. Against Ole Miss’ excellent defensive front, he avoided making any mistakes, and he also helped neutralize Florida’s pass rush, including star Dante Fowler. He’s been key in Alabama allowing only six sacks so far this season.

Next In Line: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State; KD Cannon, WR, Baylor; Quin Blanding, S, Virginia; Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma; Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona; Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU; Devon Allen, WR, Oregon; Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

Coach of the Year

1. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. Mullen gets the slight, slight edge over his in-state rival because, well, Mississippi State has gotten to No. 1 first, despite being unranked in the preseason. After cruising through three weak nonconference games, the Bulldogs have made statements in looking physically superior in wins over LSU, Texas A&M and, most notably, Auburn. With Florida and Michigan jobs potentially opening, Mississippi State will have to fight to hold onto him.

2. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. Ole Miss is undefeated and ranked No. 3, having dispatched of Alabama and Texas A&M on consecutive Saturdays with arguably the nation’s best defense. Freeze has recruited very well, and top sophomores Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell are all paying off in a big way for a deep and talented team.

3. Gary Patterson, TCU. It’s easy to be down on TCU after it coughed up a 21-point fourth-quarter lead at Baylor and lost despite scoring 58 points, but still, Patterson has helped engineer a terrific turnaround as TCU rebounds from a frustrating 2013 season in which it got no breaks. A turnaround was to be expected, but at 4-1 with a win over Oklahoma, TCU is ahead of schedule, particularly on offense, as QB Trevone Boykin has transformed into a star under new co-offensive coordinators Doug Meachem and Sonny Cumbie.

Next In Line: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame; Rich Rodriguez, Arizona; Mark Stoops, Kentucky; Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State; Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina

Best Group of Five Player

1. Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina. Carden gets the edge over Cato because he’s done it against a better schedule, throwing for over 400 yards in wins over both Virginia Tech and North Carolina. In six games, he’s completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards (8.4 per attempt) with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, leading a Pirates offense that ranks fourth in yards per play and 15th in scoring.

2. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall. The Thundering Herd play one of the worst schedules in the nation, with no Power Five opponents, but at least they’re doing what they’re supposed to do against weak opponents. At the forefront is Cato, who’s hitting 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,698 yards (9.6 per attempt) with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions in an offense that has scored at least 42 points every week.

3. Zach Vigil, LB, Utah State. The Aggies have lost the two guys who are supposed to be their best players — QB Chuckie Keeton and LB Kyler Fackrell — to season-ending injuries, but they have wins over Wake Forest, Air Force and BYU and rank 13th nationally in defensive yards per play (4.6) despite losing Fackrell. Alongside his brother, Nick, Vigil has become the centerpiece of the defense, with 64 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks and an interception for a touchdown. He had 22 tackles in one game against Air Force last week.

Next In Line: Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky; Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan; Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State; Thomas Rawls, RB, Central Michigan

* * * Contact Matt at matt.brown5082@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @MattBrownCFB.

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