Royals’ Game 1 victory muted by death of Volquez’s father
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A World Series classic had just ended, and the Royals gathered in the clubhouse for their postgame celebration. Only on this night, the celebration was delayed, then muted, by terrible news.
Pitcher Jeremy Guthrie made the announcement. Another Royals player had lost his parent, the third this season. The player was the evening’s starting pitcher, right-hander Edinson Volquez. Some Royals already knew. Some did not.
"Man, everyone was just so pumped up," second baseman Ben Zobrist said. "Then Guthrie let us know what had happened. It took the air out of the room for a minute there. Everyone starts thinking, ‘Oh boy.’"
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas had lost his mother on Aug. 9. Right-hander Chris Young had lost his father on Sept. 26. And now Volquez has lost his father, at perhaps the pinnacle of his career.
Game 1 of the World Series, a 5-4 Royals victory over the Mets in 14 innings on Tuesday night, will be remembered for a long time.
It will be remembered for any number of memorable plays, from Alcides Escobar’s leadoff inside-the-park homer to Alex Gordon’s stunning ninth-inning homer off Jeurys Familia to the bases-loaded, walk-off sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer.
And if the Mets lose this Series, it could be remembered as the night when Familia, right-hander Matt Harvey and third baseman David Wright were punctured, making the team look suddenly vulnerable.
We’re not there yet, not even close to there, not after one game, not with the Mets holding the edge in the Jacob deGrom-Johnny Cueto matchup in Game 2. Yet, for all the drama and magic of Game 1, it’s difficult to stop thinking about Volquez, difficult to imagine the emotions he is experiencing, whether he knew about his father’s death before he pitched or not.
Volquez was gone from Kauffman Stadium by the time the game was over, long gone with his family after working the first six innings. Manager Ned Yost said that Volquez learned of his father’s passing after he left the game. One player, however, told me he was "100 percent" sure that Volquez knew during the game, and other players suggested as much with their postgame comments.
So many players, so many perspectives, so little clarity — we’ll learn the exact details before long. Volquez certainly pitched as if nothing was out of the ordinary, allowing three runs in six innings. As pitching coach Dave Eiland said, "He was locked in as usual. Same routine, same everything. I’m not saying he didn’t know. But he didn’t mention anything to me."
For the Royals, the emotional landscape could not have been more delicate; they had to navigate it with extreme care. They wanted to honor the wishes of Volquez’s family, who, according to various club officials, asked that he not be told of his father’s passing. Yet, the team also had to make contingencies, fearing that Volquez would somehow learn the news and be overcome with grief.
"I talked to Chris Young and told him that if Eddie finds out, you know how tough that can be," Yost said. "I remember Chris just went through it, Moose went through it with his mom.
"It’s a very, very tough thing, especially right before you’re about to go out and pitch. It would almost be impossible to do that in Game 1 of the World Series. I told Chris just to be ready in case something happens. And he would have to pick up the slack."
Eiland recalled telling Young, "Keep it under your hat. This is what’s going on. Prepare. If we’ve got to go with you, I’ll let you know."
It turns out that Young did not start, but pitched the final three innings to earn the victory. He remains the scheduled starter for Game 4, Yost said, though he will need to bounce back from his 53-pitch outing on three days’ rest. Volquez remains lined up for Game 5, if necessary.
First, though, Volquez will return to the warm embrace of his teammates, who sadly have grown accustomed to helping each other through loss. Moustakas and Young recall with fondness the hugs they received from teammates upon rejoining the team one day after losing their respective parents. Volquez, a popular, affable sort, surely will be treated the same.
"This is family," Moustakas said. "We’re part of each other’s family. We’re a family organization. When a guy loses a family member, that takes priority over everything that happens in baseball."
Yet, a game needed to be played Tuesday night, the biggest game of the season. Moustakas said Yost informed some of the players of Volquez’s loss during extra innings, saying, "We’ve got to win this one for Eddie." But not all heard those words, leaving Guthrie to inform everyone afterward.
They couldn’t fully celebrate, not when their hearts ached for their teammate, not with another game about 18 hours away. Baseball goes on. Baseball always goes on. But even on this night of stirring triumph, it just wasn’t the same.