Vahe Gregorian

Chris Young earned ALCS Game 4 role for Royals in wake of father’s recent death

Royals manager Ned Yost has named Chris Young the club’s Game 4 starter at Toronto Tuesday.
Royals manager Ned Yost has named Chris Young the club’s Game 4 starter at Toronto Tuesday. deulitt@kcstar.com

For two months, Royals manager Ned Yost’s well-documented gut instinct appeared to diminish his faith in pitcher Chris Young — whose dependability indeed had been eroding after he’d excelled early.

So, soon after the team acquired Johnny Cueto on July 26, Young was relegated to a hazy long-relief, spot-start role that might just as well have placed him in a witness-protection program.

He pitched 12.1 measly innings in 10 cameo appearances between July 28 and Sept. 27, and suddenly somehow the tallest man (6-10) in the game was fading into obscurity.

But then came a pivotal, poignant turn of events in September.

That was when Young, pitching the day after his father died, began to demand back the trust of Yost, who on Sunday named him the Royals’ starter for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday in Toronto.

Though it was announced Sunday, the decision to pass over Kris Medlen for Young, who at 36 will become the oldest starting pitcher in franchise postseason history, has been bubbling up since a convergence of circumstances in late September.

For weeks, Medlen had been building momentum as the presumptive fourth starter in the playoffs.

But in his first season since 2013 following a second Tommy John surgery, his command became erratic. Then he was punished for nine hits and six runs in 3.2 innings on Sept. 26 against Cleveland.

Young was scheduled to make a spot start the next day, though it seemed to be more just to be a matter of idling in the flux of setting up the postseason rotation for others than it was a chance for him to stake his own claim.

Then even that start suddenly seemed unlikely to happen when Young got word that his father, Charles, who had been fighting cancer for years, had been taken to a hospital in Dallas with an infection that put his life in imminent danger.

Young was not available for comment on Sunday, but Yost recalled the scene vividly.

After the game the night before Young’s scheduled start, Yost, pitching coach Dave Eiland and Young convened in Eiland’s office.

Young was in distress, of course, and Yost told him, “ ‘Chris, go home. Just go home.’ ”

But Young was unyielding. He was at peace with having seen his father a few days before, and he believed it would do no good to go home.

Then there was this:

“He said, ‘My dad would not want me to go home. He would not,’ ” Yost said. “I said, ‘Well, you just think about it, and if you feel different in the morning, we're covered. I've got guys that could start.’

“So he said, ‘I'm not going to feel different about it.’ I said, ‘OK.’ ”

When Charles Young died later that night, Young was no less adamant.

The next day, feeling his father “next to me with every pitch,” as he’d put it later, Young held Cleveland hitless through four innings.

He came back to the clubhouse and said, “I’ve got one good inning left.”

Then he went back out, and as Yost put it, “boom-boom-boom, one-two-three, walked off the field and straight into the clubhouse to catch a plane home.”

Days later, Young started again and yielded one run on four hits in 6.1 innings against Minnesota.

He further reinforced his reliability with four innings of one-run relief in Game 1 on the American League Divisional Series against Houston.

As he announced the decision on Sunday, Yost noted those “really, really good” starts, pointed to the “deception in his delivery,” how hard it is to see his slider and his competitive spirit.

Yost also suggested one of the reasons the Royals had used him less late in the season was to have him fresh for “these type of scenarios,” reflecting the organization’s cognizance of how a fatigued Young had faded in the second half of last season as he was recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome.

While Yost didn’t specifically cite Young’s remarkable composure under such emotional circumstances as a reason, as a manager who depends more on instinct and gut feeling over demonstrable science than many of his peers no doubt was moved by seeing something special in what Young did.

It was something that reiterated what general manager Dayton Moore said when the Royals signed Young in March.

“He’s had some injury history in the past, but he has tremendous makeup,” Moore said then. “At the end of the day, you bet on those players who are great competitors, great workers and overcomers, and Chris has been able to do that.”

Young was named American League comeback player of the year for Seattle last season, which seemingly would preclude him from such a distinction this year.

Maybe that should be revisited, considering his banishment to limbo after he allowed 23 earned runs in 36 innings over seven starts, and how he’s performed in the immediate void of his father’s death.

More to the immediate point, you can bet that Young’s resilience and unswerving, unteachable mindset accounts as much as anything else for Yost placing his faith in him for such a vital task.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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