By the time the Royals walked off the Kauffman Stadium field on Thursday with a 6-4 victory that ended their seven-game skid, Hillman was out and Ned Yost was in as manager.
Hillman knew it all the time, too, while the Royals were defeating the Cleveland Indians.
Immediately after the game, general manager Dayton Moore emotionally announced Hillman's removal in the third and last year of his contract. Yost, former manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, will take over the helm on Friday night when the Royals open a series against the Chicago White Sox.
Moore said he and Hillman had discussed the possibility over the previous 24 hours and the decision was finalized before Thursday's game. Hillman gave no hint as he met with the media an hour and a half before the game.
Owner David Glass and team president Dan Glass obviously had input on the decision.
"It's certainly something that was discussed with ownership," Moore said. "But ultimately I had to make that decision."
Moore said Hillman took the news well and went into his final game with determination. He left with a record of 152-207 in his two-plus years.
Yost's managerial record
"He said, 'I'm not going out losing seven in a row. I'm going to go out a winner today,' " Moore said.
Yost, who was hired by Moore last winter as a special advisor to baseball operations, had a 457-502 (.477) record with the Brewers from 2003-08 before being dismissed on Sept. 15, 2008.
Moore, though, said he had never discussed the managerial job with Yost until Thursday.
"I never spoke to him about it one time," he said.
Ironically, Hillman said that the hiring of Yost as an advisor last January was made at his behest.
"I know the man and I know what he's made of. We did hire him at my request," Hillman said. "He's a great baseball man."
Hillman himself was offered an unspecified job within the Royals' organization but he has not decided on his future plans.
Yost was in Spring Training with the Royals, a quiet figure assessing the Royals and their Minor Leaguers as well. He gained experience as a coach under Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox in 1991-2002 before being named Milwaukee manager. Yost and Moore were in the Braves' organization at the same time.
"Ned obviously has been through what we've been going through before," Moore said. "He has a lot of similarities to Trey, actually, as far as the energy, their relational skills with people, he knows our system and is acquainted with it. He'll be a different voice for us at this time."
Moore said Yost would manage through the end of this season and then would be reevaluated.
It's too early to know if Yost's hiring would mean changes in the coaching staff or on the roster, Moore said.
Pivotal to the decision was a 3-8 road trip that ended with five straight losses and a four-game sweep by Texas, part of which Moore witnessed first-hand. It was a disastrous showing that continued with two losses to Cleveland in Kansas City.
"The road trip obviously was disappointing and the way we've played the last couple of nights here, it just became obvious that we needed to move forward," Moore said. "Everybody knows that Trey Hillman's contract is up this year and it becomes another issue going forward. So the timing was right to make a change."
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who dismissed Yost in 2008, has high regard for his former manager.
"I'm happy for Ned, and I think everybody deserves a second chance in this game," Melvin said.
At the time of Yost's dismissal and again on Thursday, Melvin had particular praise for Yost's patience with young players. The best example in Milwaukee was shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was in the lineup on 2005 Opening Day and struggled badly in the first half, hitting below .200 all the way through June 17. There was tremendous pressure from above to use somebody else, but Yost made the argument for Hardy, and it paid off. Two years later, Hardy was an All-Star.
"I'm not sure Rickie Weeks would be the player he is today without Ned. He loved Prince [Fielder]. He was supportive of all of his players," Melvin said. "He was a guy who wanted to know the entire organization, and was always willing to go to the Minor League side and get to know the players there."
Melvin also praised Yost for getting career years out of some mid-level players. Scott Podsednik, who's with the Royals now, jump-started his career under Yost in 2003 and 2004.
"He got a lot out of players in those early years while we were waiting for our younger players," Melvin said. "He had patience. A lot of good things happened for us while Ned was here."