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Veteran Young, in first World Series appearance, is Royals’ unlikely hero

Behind unlikely veteran reliever Chris Young, the Royals outlasted the Mets, 5–4, in 14 innings in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series to take a 1–0 series lead.

KANSAS CITY — Chris Young was scheduled to throw his first-ever World Series pitch on Saturday, when he was to start Game 4 in New York. Not long before Tuesday night’s Game 1, which, a long time later, would end in a 5–4 Royals win, Kansas City manager Ned Yost told Young that his start might come much earlier than that: in about two hours, in fact.

The reason for the potential emergency outing was a tragic one. The father of Edinson Volquez, who had been selected to start Game 1, had died earlier in the day in the Dominican Republic, reportedly of heart failure.

“He kind of put me on standby,” said Young of his manager.

Volquez would take the mound, however, and reports conflicted as to whether he had been aware of his father’s passing when he did. Some reports indicated that he had been informed. Others suggested that his wife had asked the club not to tell him until he had finished his outing.

“I guess after the game is when he found out,” said Yost, although that was just a guess. Volquez was gone from the stadium, to make family arrangements, before he could publicly clarify what had transpired.

Despite the tragedy, whether he knew about it or not, Volquez threw well, holding the Mets to three runs on six hits over six innings. No one could have imagined that when he departed, trailing the Mets and Matt Harvey by a score of 3–1, that the game was less than half over. And no one could have expected that the 36-year-old Young would make his World Series debut on Tuesday night after all.

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This has been billed as a series between young, athletic, exciting teams, and for the majority of what turned out to be a five-hour-plus game, the clubs’ younger players were the difference makers, usually in unexpected ways. The Mets hadn’t trailed in a game for 41 straight innings, since early in Game 5 of the NLDS, but it took them just one pitch to fall behind in their first World Series in 15 years. Royals leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar swung at the 26-year-old Harvey’s 95-mph fastball and drove it to left center, where it glanced off Yoenis Cespedes and rolled to the warning track. Escobar circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run, the first in a World Series game since Mule Haas’s in 1929.

Youth continued to dominate as the game progressed. The Royals tied things up against Harvey in the bottom of the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer (26) and an RBI single by Mike Moustakas (27). The Mets took a one-run lead in the top of the eighth on a fielding error by Hosmer on a bouncing ball hit by Wilmer Flores (24), which allowed Juan Lagares (26) to score.

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Then, with one out in the ninth and the previously dominant Mets closer Jeurys Familia (26) in, Alex Gordon (31) took a 97-mph sinker and hit it 428 feet to dead center for the first game-tying or go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later of a World Series game since David Freese’s walkoff in 2011’s Game 6. It was not only the first run that Familia had allowed this postseason, after 10 innings of scoreless work, but his first blown save in nearly three months, since July 30.

Soon, though, the youth was exhausted, and it yielded to age—or, rather, the relatively aged, in Young and the 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, each the oldest player on his team.

Young and Colon entered the game in the 12th inning, and there was a beauty in that synchrony. Colon, like Young, once thought his pitching days were over due to injury; Colon spent all of 2010 out of the majors due to arm trouble, as Young had spent all of ’13. And Colon, like Young, was pitching in his first World Series game, at what is probably nearing the end of at least the second act of a long career.

For two innings, the 12th and the 13th, the veterans held serve. Colon bobbed in and out of trouble—he allowed leadoff singles in both innings, but escaped each time—while Young never approached it. Although Young stands 6'10", he has never thrown hard, especially recently. PitchF/X statistics suggest that he hadn’t touched 90 mph with a single delivery since 2009. In Game 1, though, the radar indicated that he had reached that barrier eight times in the 12th inning alone, and twice in the 13th.

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“Well, it’s the World Series,” Young would say. “If you were in the World Series, you’d be throwing harder, too.”

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While Young said that he judges his pitches based only on their results, not their speed, he admitted that he might have had more inspiration than that. His own father, Charles, had died of cancer on Sept. 26, the day before he made his first start in two months—the one that cinched his playoff-rotation spot—and threw five no-hit innings.

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“I think it might be a month ago to the day that I had to pitch after learning about my dad,” Young said. “I’m not sure if Eddie knew or not, but regardless, I know the pain he’s going through right now.

“Almost every inning tonight, I was thinking about my dad and hearing his voice, and I’m sure that Edinson is, too,” Young continued. “Any time I feel like I lose focus, I hear my dad in my head saying, ‘Concentrate. Focus on what you need to do to help this team win.’ He’s with me constantly. It’s still fresh for me, and tonight brought back a tough night that I went through a month ago. Words can’t describe my pain for Eddy tonight.”

Young required only eight pitches to set the Mets down in order in the top of the 14th, and then it was Colon’s turn to match. He couldn’t. Escobar reached on a throwing error by Mets third baseman David Wright. Ben Zobrist, who went 3 for 6, lashed a single to right. After an intentional walk to Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer, who appeared as if he’d be the night’s goat in the eighth inning, hit the game-winning sacrifice fly. The Royals celebrated.

Their celebration was subdued, however, because most of them learned the news about their teammate’s father after the game.

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“We all talked about it,” said Gordon. “That’s tough. But we’re a family, and we rallied around him and picked him up.”

Youth will almost certainly determine the rest of this series, particularly the matchup between the Mets’ 20-something aces and the Royals’ blooming offense.

“It’s going to be a tremendous series,” said Young. “Two great teams, two teams with a lot of heart.”

Game 1, though, ended with two pitchers who had waited forever to get to a World Series game doing everything they could to ensure their first wouldn’t end on their account. Young came out ahead, and he admitted that he wasn’t certain if he’d make that Game 4 start after all, after throwing an unexpected 53 pitches, none of which the Mets turned into a hit.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said. Game 2 was just 18 hours away.