Amid all the pre-season gushing over Yordano Ventura and the mid-season hysteria over the acquisition of Johnny Cueto, through the backlash of frantic concerns about their slumps and the pendulum swinging back to their recent resurgence, Easy Edinson Volquez all along has stood tall as the Royals most dependable starter.
As such, he unleashed his most dynamic performance of the season at the most meaningful time in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday at Kauffman Stadium, where he shackled the prolific attack of the Toronto Blue Jays to two hits over six innings in the Royals’ 5-0 victory.
“Tonight was The Volquez Show,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said, later adding, “His ball (was) ducking and darting everywhere.”
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Even as his pitching array enjoyed that extra movement thanks to a revived backdoor sinker, though, Volquez stood in the same place he’s been all season — atop the staff.
Feeling what he termed “sexy” about a revised strategy to pitch largely down and away enabled Volquez to freeze Toronto.
He also routinely summoned 96-97 mph for his fastballs late in a season in which he typically has topped out at 93-94.
“I don’t know where that was coming from,” said Volquez, 32, with that typical hearty laugh of his after the first postseason victory of his career.
Adrenalin, he guessed, especially after hearing the crowd chant his name.
“It’s that postseason juice right there …,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “He’s always had the life, but to add the velocity to that, that’s the best we’ve seen him, I think, all year.”
Once, the circumstances might have been too much for him as he struggled to mature.
Even as recently as 2010, when he made his postseason debut with Cincinnati, he said the pressure “probably got in my head a little bit” before he was thumped for four runs in 1.2 innings by the Phillies.
He was more composed but not much more effective in his next playoff appearance in the 2014 National League Wild Card game for Pittsburgh, taking the loss after giving up five runs in five innings.
On Friday, though, he was able to channel positively any nerves he had in a game distinguished by his ability to maintain his composure and endurance, especially in a 37-pitch sixth inning to finish his 111-heave game.
“ ‘Don’t panic; stay under control,’ ” he reminded himself.
And he didn’t, despite ample opportunity in an inning that started with two nine-pitch walks.
Those walks suggested it would be prudent for the Royals to move on to reliever Kelvin Herrera, whom even Volquez seemed surprised stayed put in the bullpen.
But with a little help from a sellout crowd chanting, “Ed-die, Ed-die,” he worked out of it by inducing a flyout sandwiched by two strikeouts looking — the second of which included a 96-mph fastball to Troy Tulowitzki on his 109th pitch.
All of which served to tame the Blue Jays and menacing sluggers like Josh Donaldson, whom Volquez called “a little baby” after their kerfuffle in Toronto on Aug. 2, and Jose Bautista, he of the celebrated macho bat flip on Tuesday against Texas.
Neither managed a hit against Volquez, who by holding Toronto hitless through the first three innings extended the Royals streak to 10 innings without allowing one going back to the second inning of Game 5 of the ALDS against Houston.
(By game’s end, the Royals had gone 16 innings without allowing a run.)
While Volquez on Thursday tried to douse any thoughts that there were lingering issues with Toronto, calling Donaldson a great hitter and saying it was time to move forward, he also let it be known he intended to attack inside.
Which he meant when he said, apparently, before the game plan changed on Friday to work away more.
Still, his churning effort reflected an aggressive mindset, whether it was stoked by the Blue Jays themselves, the tone-setting stakes of Game 1 or the combination of both.
Between that intensity and his charged secondary pitches, the effect was to leave the brawny, blustery Blue Jays off-balance and muttering to themselves.
That was best exemplified by Bautista squawking at a called strike that froze him in the fourth and effectively pouting out the at-bat before striking out.
Beyond it being an end in itself, the Royals’ third straight postseason win was the latest indication that the largely volatile starting pitching might have some traction at last.
Cueto was tremendous in their last outing, Game 5 of the ALDS, allowing only two runs and two hits against the Astros to propel the Royals to the ALCS.
Ventura, excellent down the regular-season stretch, was good enough to keep a rally manageable in Game 4 of the ALDS. He surrendered three runs and struck out eight in a game the Royals won 9-6 after trailing 6-2 in the eighth.
And, of course, Volquez himself had performed well enough to win in Game 3, striking out eight and allowing three runs in 5.2 innings.
“I kind of relate it back to the days when I was with the Atlanta Braves,” manager Ned Yost said earlier Friday, “and you had (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine and (John) Smoltz.”
If that sounds like a reach, Yost wasn’t comparing the Royals’ trio from the Dominican Republic to the triumvirate of Hall of Famers, exactly.
He simply was referring to the way they’d motivate each other.
“One of those guys would have a big start, and the other ones would always have the mindset, ‘Well, I'm going to go out and do just as good or better than he did,’ ” Yost said. “It's always kind of like an inner competition within the competition, because they are so close. They all want to continue to hold up their end and pitch good baseball games.
“What Johnny did the other day was huge for us, but I think Volqy thinks, ‘I want to go out and do the same thing.’ ”
But the truth is Volquez has been the one to emulate all along.