KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The significance of win No. 82 is mostly an afterthought now.
The Royals, in the heat of a playoff chase, don’t have time to sit back and offer perspective on what it’s like to secure the team’s first winning season in 10 years.
The Royals clinched a winning season with a 4-0 victory over Texas on Sunday.
“It’s the furthest thing from my mind,” manager Ned Yost said of the milestone. “A winning season is nice. Our goal is much higher.”
The players feel the same way.
“If we weren’t right in the middle of the playoff race, maybe it would be a big deal,” Billy Butler said. “But not now.”
Still, we cannot completely undersell the value of a guaranteed winning season. They simply don’t come along that often in these parts.
The last one, when the Royals went 83-79 in 2003, was fun, but altogether fluky. It was a winning season built on improbable luck — when you rely on pitchers such as Darrell May, Chris George, Jimmy Gobble and Jose Lima, you know fortune is on your side.
And Tony Pena managed that team with blind confidence, like a blackjack player who spends the whole night hitting on 17 — and wins.
The good fortune from 2003, of course, ran out rather quickly. The Royals lost 104 games the very next season, Pena quit the team and disappeared in the middle of the night, and misery returned to the fan base in all forms over the next few years.
The Royals lost more than 100 games for three straight seasons after 2003, and worse yet, they became the butt of national jokes and featured on late-night monologues.
To be fair, they deserved to be made fun of during that time. They were a laughing stock.
How bad was it? Well, they once batted out of order in the first inning. First baseman Ken Harvey once got hit in the back of the head with a relay throw from the outfield.
A week later, Harvey fired a relay throw that nearly tore the face off pitcher Jason Grimsley.
One pitcher, Albie Lopez, got fired between games of a doubleheader.
It was bad. Really bad.
Buddy Bell managed the 2005 Royals, who lost 19 straight, and when I asked him during that streak how incredibly depressing and sad that losing streak must be for him, he thought for a moment and replied, “Well, it’s not like we were worth a (blank) to begin with.”
Yes, losing and Royals have simply been synonymous for years so, in that respect, we should at least pause and reflect on what a significant step it is for the Royals to be winning again in 2013.
“I don’t think you can take it for granted,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “I mean, what have we had, one winning season in 20 years?
“Ultimately our goal is to win a championship. But there are stages you have to take. You build a foundation, you learn to win, you learn to have a winning season, you make the playoffs and you win a championship.
“Sure, it matters that we have a winning season. It’s not our goal this minute — we’re trying to get to the playoffs. But it’s a step in the right direction after a lot of years of losing.”
One hopes it’s a permanent step in the right direction.
“That is the key,” Moore said. “You have to build something that will last. It’s not just about winning one time. We want to build something that will be competitive and fighting for a championship every year.”
Perhaps win No. 82 is the start.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.