KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Edinson Volquez says that every player watches baseball shows on TV, knows what all of the analysts are talking about. So yes, he had heard all of the criticism of his past postseason performances. And on Friday night, he was motivated by it.
Volquez held the powerful Blue Jays to two hits in six scoreless innings, earning his first postseason victories in four tries in the Royals’ 5-0 triumph in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
He threw harder than he usually does. He pitched differently than he usually does. And he survived a 37-pitch sixth inning to complete perhaps the most memorable outing of his up-and-down career.
Article continues below ...
What got into him? Volquez said it was the crowd at Kauffman Stadium chanting, "Ed-die! Ed-die!" But Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland sensed something deeper going on.
"He wants it," Eiland said. "I hate to use the phrase, ‘On a mission.’ It sounds kind of corny. But it’s been well-documented that he hasn’t pitched well in the postseason. He’s tired of hearing it. He can smell it. He’s driven."
Consider Volquez’s velocities over his past six starts, including his two in the postseason, according to STATS LLC:
That’s right, Volquez is throwing harder and harder, even touching 96-97 on Friday night. And yet, this wasn’t all about velocity. Volquez, with input from Eiland and catcher Salvador Perez, deviated from his expected plan against the Jays, estimating that he threw only three pitches inside the entire game.
"Tonight we come from the bullpen, I talked to Salvy about how we’re going to pitch," Volquez said. "And we changed the whole plan, the game plan. It was like, OK, we know they’ve got a lot of power hitters over there. And (Perez) told me, ‘Like how do you feel pitching down and away?’ And I said, ‘I feel sexy tonight.’"
Volquez not only worked down and away, but also pitched up in the zone — a tricky act for a sinkerballer, whose highest pitches normally do not rise above the waist. And when he went away from his fastball at the start of the sixth, issuing back-to-back nine-pitch walks, Eiland went to the mound to remind him to keep attacking with the pitch.
The result, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said, "was the best start I’ve seen out of him all year" — and easily the best start of Volquez’s postseason career.
Oh, Volquez pitched decently in Game 3 of the Division Series, holding the Astros to three runs in 5 2/3 innings in a game the Royals lost 4-2. But his previous two postseason starts — Game 1 of the 2010 DS for the Reds, the wild-card game last season for the Pirates — pretty much had been disasters.
So, where did all that extra velocity come from?
"Adrenalin," Volquez said when I interviewed him for FOX after the game. "The fans gave me a lot of energy. Seeing all the fans in the stands, calling my name, calling, ‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,’ I was like, ‘C’mon, I’ve got to do it for them.’ And I did."
No doubt he turned on the TV afterward. No doubt he heard better things.