When we found out before the game that Edinson Volquez’s father had just died, I swore that there would be no arm-chair psychology in this recap; I wouldn’t read his face and I wouldn’t attribute any extraheroic strength to his effort and I wouldn’t excuse any bloop hits or failures on his part to back up third base. Baseball is absurdly small and our parents are, for most of us, extraordinarily large, and to put the two on the same map is some kind of missing the point entirely. Baseball is awful because we would even expect Edinson Volquez to pitch on a day like that day, and it’s salvation because what would any of us want to do more for our fathers than pitch Game One of the World Series?
Which is brought up here not because promises to avoid arm-chair psychology re: Volquez will be broken, but because on September 26th a man in Dallas named Charles Young died. This was his obituary, condensed a bit:
Charles Edward Young was born in 1945 to Cleo and Betty Helbert Young, in Hamilton, Texas. He was the 2nd of 8 children. He spent his childhood working on the family farm, going to school and excelling in many sports. His love & talent for athletics earned him a full scholarship to Texas Christian University. Charles enlisted in the U.S. Navy, receiving his wings as a Naval Aviator in 1968 and continued to play football on the Navy Goshawks team. Over the next 7 years, Charles flew P-3s and was stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., Rota, Spain, & Sigonella, Sicily. It was during this time that he met the love of his life, Lillie Dempster, who he married in September of 1970. During these early years of marriage, Charles & Lillie traveled the world together. Charles served 26 years in the U.S. Navy as a pilot specializing in Naval Intelligence and then continued in the Naval Reserves. His assignments took him to military facilities throughout the Pacific Rim, Hawaii, Europe, & the Mediterranean. working alongside some of the nation's great military leaders. He retired in 1993 at the rank of Captain. Charles and Lillie settled in Dallas, Texas where they lovingly raised their three children. Charles worked as a CPA and could often be found on a baseball field or basketball gym, coaching and cheering on his children at their many sporting events. Charles was passionate about TCU athletics, MLB baseball, the Navy, and college football…but there was nothing that he loved more than spending time with his family.
Chris Young pitched the day after his father died. He threw five shutout innings. “I felt him next to me with every pitch,” he said in a statement released by the team after that game. And on a night when one of his teammates lost a father, and less than a month after he lost his own, it’s hard not to imagine that Chris Young thought about his dad, knowing that his dad would have been thinking about him. It’s a little bit of a miracle that Alex Gordon homered to tie the game in the ninth and send it hurtling toward Chris Young, and it's sort of a miracle that Chris Young was there to win it.
It’s generally an accepted belief in baseball that teams with dominant starting rotations are at an advantage in the playoffs. This is such an extremely reasonable hypothesis that it requires evidence to discount it, and said evidence has occasionally been provided—Ben Lindbergh, for instance, has more than once looked for an Ace Effect and come up empty. And yet this hypothesis is so reasonable that we (even Ben!) mostly ignore the evidence and repeat the “yeah but Dangerous In October” lines about teams like the Mets. The reason teams with great rotations—particularly tops of rotations—are so intimidating in October is that, obviously, the tops of these rotations carry a more substantial portion of the innings in a postseason series, with the nos. 7, 6, 5 and, in some cases, 4 starters getting pushed out of the picture entirely. But then a game comes along like this one, a 14-inning contest that would ultimately include 36 players, including 13 pitchers. And by player 33 or so, the manager is looking down his bench and remembering all those days in May when he actually had to use these guys, and how much that sucked, and wondering whether it’s too soon to bring the Game One starting pitchers back on short rest in relief before realizing this still is Game One, and so they point at the fat one and the tall one and say “you guys, you’re in.” Which is how we end up with a World Series game that is going to be decided by Bartolo Colon and Chris Young going as far as they freaking can.
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a quick reminder,
of times past. In 2010, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young appeared in a combined four games. That was five years ago. Young was 31, Colon 37. Now, imagine for a second that Bartolo Colon and Chris Young had appeared in a combined 50 games, 25 apiece. They would have joined a group of workhorses that included Chris Carpenter, Ryan Dempster, Rodrigo Lopez, Derek Lowe, Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Carl Pavano, Roy Oswalt, Kevin Millwood, Dave Bush, Johan Santana, Javier Vazquez, Joel Pineiro…–old guys! A bunch of old and retired guys who are literally Dave Bush and Jon Garland and Carl Pavano. All of these pitchers were younger than, at least, Colon, and some were younger than Young. This is the peer group if Young and Colon had been healthy and effective enough to go every fifth day in 2010. But of course neither was. Colon didn’t pitch. Young threw four times. After two more seasons, he would miss his own full season, but for a disastrous stint in Triple-A. (He had neck and shoulder pain and was eventially diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a reasonably career-ending injury.) These are the pitchers to whom the first game of the World Series came down.
Even crazier, I’d rather watch these two go at it than Harvey and Volquez.
Young was the seventh pitcher for the Royals. Franklin Morales was still available, and technically Kris Medlen, though somebody probably had to be held back just in case this series goes four. They brought Young in because Young’s good. He just had the best ERA+ of his career, and if you’re hung up on the high FIP get with it, kid: Chris Young is the most FIP-immune pitcher of all-time, give or take. (Only one pitcher in my modern era, 1988 onward, has a lower BABIP than Young in 1000 innings or more. He’s 15 points lower than any pitcher who overlapped his career.) It takes a little getting used to, Chris Young being good. It helps to work your way into it slowly, first by talking about how the other Chris Young is pretty good, then by talking about how Chris Sale is pretty good, and finally admitting that, yes, Chris (the tall one) Young is actually pretty good.
So they bring him into the 12th, and while Bartolo Colon is intentionally walking guys to try to get out of jams, Young is calmly dominating. He strikes out Daniel Murphy, on seven pitches that all fall in a seven-mph velocity band. He strikes out Yoenis Cespedes, humping up to 91 for the only time all night. He strikes out Lucas Duda, and nothing in the whole inning was short of 83 or faster than 91. He’s like a guy who can shoot an 82 using nothing but a four iron—chipping with it, putting with it, driving with it, and yeah it’s not like he's under par or anything, but there’s pretty good folks with full sets can’t break 82 on a tough course like this one.
He comes back out for the 13th, and it’s the same: The at-bats aren’t short, none gets over quickly, there's nibbling and there are foul balls fought away, but he works the slider at 83 and the fastball at 89 and everything’s away and the hard stuff is up. The announcers say something about how his release point is seven feet off the ground, which is just a total lie, but the guy’s on stilts for sure so the point is taken. He walks Wilmer Flores, then gets the weak popup from Kirk Nieuwenhuis and there’s his second inning.
And back out for a third, and he throws three fastballs to Curtis Granderson: 87, 88, 87, high/low/high, away-away-away, and that’s one out. Then he throws a pair of fastballs to David Wright: 87, 88, low/high, away-away, and that’s two outs. And up steps the hottest man in the series, the guy on the cover of the magazine, the guy who in full regression mode still had a couple hard hits, including a ridiculously good piece of hitting against Kelvin Herrera’s triple-digit stuff, staying perfectly balanced on a 1-0 changeup and lining it up the middle back two or three hours ago.
He starts him with a fastball, up and over the plate and 88. Strike one. Then another fastball, 89, this one high and outside, ball one. And finally one more fastball, 89, near the top of the zone, and the only starting pitcher of the past decade to post a 15-percent infield-fly rate gets an infield fly. He goes through the Mets’ 1-2-3 hitters throwing nothing but high-80s fastballs in the strike zone and they can’t touch him.
So far as I can tell, there was no press conference to announce the Royals’ signing of Young. If you think about the Royals’ postseason roster, excluding the guys who just flat out don’t get used ever, here are the press-conference moves/no-press-conference moves, to the best of my estimation and knowledge:
- Press conferences: Hosmer, Zobrist, Escobar, Moustakas, Gordon, Cain, Morales, Cueto, Volquez, Davis, Hochevar, Medlen
- No press conferences: Perez, Ventura, Herrera, Madson, Young
The guys at the top are the players a front office seeks out, the ones everybody envisions doing exactly what the Royals have done (even though many of the press conference guys will also disappoint). The ones at the bottom are a combination of Latin American 16-year-olds and old, busted, broken down men who you thought at the time should have known better than to keep going. They’re the ones of whom nothing is expected—Young made $600,000 this year (before incentives), for goodness sakes. They’re the ones who, when we map out a potential postseason series in April, are shoved aside in favor of the aces going on short rest and the relievers going two innings. They’re the ones who, in an all-time great game like this one, find themselves on the mound with the simplest instructions: Go as long as you can, don’t allow runs, win this game. Young did, and even better, he did it in just 53 pitches, so he'll be on the mound for Game Four Saturday. He will, presumably, though I can't say for sure, feel his father next to him for every pitch.
I’m not going to play armchair psychologist re: Young. I’ll say only about myself: That was an uplifting one. Going to try to be a little better person tomorrow.
Thank you for reading
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