Royals

Unconventional duo — Chris Young, R.A. Dickey — to face off in ALCS Game 4

Toronto sends out knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey (left) to start Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday. The Royals counter with Chris Young.
Toronto sends out knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey (left) to start Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday. The Royals counter with Chris Young. The Associated Press/The Kansas City Star

One starting pitcher is the author of a best-selling memoir and the 40-year-old purveyor of a dying pitch. The other is a 36-year-old Ivy League graduate who stands 6 feet 10 and throws 86 mph on the radar gun. In the annals of postseason pitching matchups, there have been more conventional duels than R.A. Dickey versus Chris Young in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

But as the former teammates take the mound Tuesday night at Rogers Centre — Young for the Royals, Dickey for the Blue Jays — these baseball playoffs will see a pitching showdown with a 90-mph speed limit.

This, you might say, is the thinking man’s duel.

“He’s got a great mind,” Dickey said of Young, his former teammate with the New York Mets. “It’s fun to be around guys like that who are well-read and who you can have deeper conversations with.”

On Tuesday, Young will put his mind to use in his first postseason start in nine years. He will do so against a fellow veteran who shares a story of resiliency and persistence. He will take the ball against a dangerous offense that led the majors in runs scored, in a ballpark that favors the hitter.

“To have this opportunity,” Young said, “I just can’t thank the organization enough for believing in me, whether it was in the beginning of the season or here now in the postseason.”

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Back in March, the Royals signed Young to a one-year deal worth $675,000. The club desired depth for its starting rotation, insurance against injuries and the expected attrition of a season. On Tuesday, Royals manager Ned Yost will lean on Young in a crucial postseason moment, believing in Young’s recent form and history against the Blue Jays. Young, who finished the season with two strong starts, allowed just one earned run in four innings of relief during Game 1 of the ALDS.

“His height and his deception in his delivery — his competitiveness,” Yost said, citing the reasons for picking Young over Kris Medlen. “He had a great outing against Houston in Kansas City, and his last two starts were really, really good. He’s a good choice for us.”

On Monday, Young recalled the only other postseason start of his career. It was a beautiful fall day in St. Louis, he said, and his Padres trailed the Cardinals 2-0 in a National League Division Series. Young would throw seven scoreless innings, staving off elimination for a day. He thought there would be more postseason starts to come.

“I had my work cut out for me then,” Young said. “I have my work cut out for me now. Maybe I have lost a few miles an hour on the fastball, but (I) hope I can make up for it with a little bit more between the ears.”

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In the years before landing with the Royals, Young bounced between three organizations, including a two-year stint with the New York Mets. His time there coincided with Dickey’s transformation into one of baseball’s most unlikely success stories as a knuckleball pitcher. Born without an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Dickey spent most of his career as a journeyman before finding something in New York at the age of 35.

He won the National League Cy Young in 2012 before being traded to Toronto in a deal that sent starter Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud to the Mets. The Mets were rebuilding, and Dickey envisioned yearly playoff appearances in Toronto. Last week, Dickey made his first career postseason start at the age of 40, allowing one run in 4  2/3 innings against Texas. Syndergaard and d’Arnaud, meanwhile, have become staples for the Mets, who lead the NLCS 2-0 over the Chicago Cubs.

“Baseball’s funny that way, right?” Dickey said last week. “It doesn’t always work out the way you hope. But here we are, and we have an opportunity to do something really neat.”

It’s perhaps fair to say that Young can relate. Three years ago, his career hung by a thread as he suffered from a rare condition called thoracic outlet syndrome. His velocity plummeted. His right arm ached. And he contemplated retirement. Young kept going, of course, essentially self-diagnosing himself in the process. In that way, his mind helped save his career. On Tuesday, he hopes his mind can help him conquer another challenge.

“It’s not the way you’d script a career, by any means,” Young said. “But hopefully the best is yet to come.”

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