KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The World Series, especially when two teams wage a battle of wills over more than five hours without ever being separated by more than two runs, is the most important thing in the world. Until it is not; until life and death intervene.
Until Kansas City manager Ned Yost, 90 minutes before World Series Game 1 Tuesday, goes up to Chris Young, a pitcher whose father passed away only four weeks ago, to tell him to be ready to start the game because Edinson Volquez, the scheduled starting pitcher, had just lost his father.
Life, death and the World Series, in that order. Such were the events of the longest Game 1 ever played among the 111 Series openers. The Royals, once down to their last two outs against a closer, the Mets' Jeurys Familia, who hadn’t blown a save in three months, won a baseball game that could empty the trough of clichéd sports narratives. Among the storylines from Kansas City's 5–4 win were the “redemption” of first baseman Eric Hosmer, who knocked in the winning run on a 14th-inning sacrifice fly six innings after a costly error; the “grittiness” of the Royals, who staged yet another late comeback; and the “irony” that New York's David Wright, the longest tenured player with one team in all of baseball, kicked a ground ball that led to the winning run after finally getting to his first World Series game.
All of it, however compelling, shrunk in significance when Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie gathered his teammates together in the clubhouse for their usual postgame celebration of a victory, which includes flashing lights and a disco ball. First, Guthrie had to break the news that many of them still did not yet know: Volquez, who not only started but also went six workmanlike innings, had lost his dad. Daniel Volquez, 63, reportedly died due to complications of heart disease in the Dominican Republic.
(A Royals spokesman said during the game that Volquez did not learn of his father’s passing until after he was removed from the game, honoring a request from his family. Sharing in the honor of that request on the Fox broadcast—which I am a part of as a color commentator and which is available to players in the clubhouse, where starting pitchers often retreat when their team bats—was a matter of simple human decency.)
“This is family,” said third baseman Mike Moustakas, who earlier this summer lost his mother to cancer. “This is a family organization. And when someone in the family loses a family member, that takes priority.”
First Moustakas, then Young, now Volquez. The string of parental losses recalls the 1999 Yankees, who had to comfort Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo and Paul O’Neill on the loss of their fathers in the final two months of a season that ended with a World Series triumph.
Game 1 sapped energy, strength and emotion. Four hundred seventeen pitches, 309 minutes, 38 players, 24 men left on base and 13 pitchers all were part of the inventory of what was spent.
“Two things you don’t want in Game 1 of the World Series,” Yost said. “One is to go 14 innings and the other is to lose.”
Young, the 6'10" righthander whose career nearly ended two years ago because of shoulder trouble, wound up in the game in the 12th inning. He had been doing cardio work in anticipation of his Game 4 start when Yost put him on call in the event that Volquez could not pitch. His emergency appearance was nothing short of spectacular. Young joined Francisco Rodriguez (Game 2 of the 2002 World Series) as the only pitchers to win a World Series game with at least three innings of hitless, scoreless relief. Young faced 10 batters and allowed only one ball out of the infield. In doing so, he could not help but think of his father, Charles, who died last month at age 70.
“Any time I needed strength,” Young said, “I heard his voice out there telling me, ‘Concentrate … focus.…’ It’s still fresh for me. Tonight brought me back.”
The Royals are 19–8 over the past two postseasons, a remarkable run of .703 baseball in which they have come from behind to win 10 times. “You feel like you can’t fail,” Young said, “when you have so many people pulling for you.”
If Game 1 is an indication of where this World Series will take us, better pack the Dramamine. You could get motion sickness from how many times this game twisted and turned. Mets starter Matt Harvey, whose four-seam velocity in October is his lowest of any month with more than one start, pitched gamely, though he was spent after throwing just 80 pitches and blowing a 3–1 lead in the sixth. The Royals and Mets combined for at least seven outstanding defensive plays, making the costly errors by Gold Glovers Hosmer and Wright all the more notable.
We don’t know when the grieving Volquez will take the ball again, or how much Young might be compromised in his Game 4 start by throwing 53 pitches in Game 1, or how Familia, burned when he tried a quick-pitch gimmick, might be damaged by Alex Gordon hitting a ninth-inning, game-tying bolt over the centerfield wall, or what both managers might do if they need major bullpen help again in Game 2. Such is the beauty of baseball. Every pitch is an invitation for a surprise.
On a night that served as the anniversary of the last world championship for both the Royals (1985) and the Mets ('86)—as well as the birth of Mets reliever Jon Niese (also '86), who pitched two shutout innings—a trip around the bases could do well as a metaphor for the circle of life. Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar scored the first and last runs of the game nearly five hours apart. The first came on a standup, inside-the-park home run. It was the first leadoff home run in a World Series game since the very first World Series, in Game 2 in 1903.
That only other leadoff inside-the-park homer was hit by Boston Americans outfielder Patsy Dougherty, the son of an Irishman who fled the Great Potato Famine. Patsy was born in 1876 on—I am not making this up—Oct. 27.
What an odd night. Two leadoff home runs in World Series history 112 years apart, the second occurring exactly 139 years after the birth of the guy who hit the first one; an unearned run deciding the game; the oldest man ever to lose a World Series game (Bartolo Colon, 42).
When finality at last arrived, there was an odd mélange of elation and exhaustion. Said Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, “It felt like it took forever. My bed is calling my name right now.”
Zobrist, who reached base three times and had a key single in the game-winning rally, managed a smile as the clock neared 1 a.m. Central. His wife, Julianna, is due any time in the next week or so.
“Taking it one day at a time,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep the bun in the oven a little longer.”
Game 1 was history. Life, and the World Series, go on.