Vahe Gregorian

Showing pure heart, Edinson Volquez paves way to Royals’ rally with own remarkable comeback

By Vahe Gregorian

The Kansas City Star

Pitcher Edinson Volquez (right) gets a hug from a teammate after the Royals’ Series-clinching win at Citi Field.
Pitcher Edinson Volquez (right) gets a hug from a teammate after the Royals’ Series-clinching win at Citi Field. jsleezer@kcstar.com

A few feet from the back of the pitcher’s mound on which he had scuffed his father’s initials before Game 5 of the World Series, Edinson Volquez stood early Monday morning trying to absorb and process the last five days of his life.

Four days before, he had attended the funeral of his father, Daniel.

And now he stood at the pinnacle of a career that his father nurtured.

“It’s painful,” he said in one breath, mustering a smile in the next. “But at the same time, we won the World Series, and we’ve got to enjoy the moment.”

No sooner did the words leave his mouth than teammate Mike Moustakas emerged from the bedlam on the field and ran to his side, toting the championship trophy.

He bestowed it upon Volquez, who somehow hugged him even as he also wrapped his arms around the Holy Grail of baseball.

“I love you, man,” Volquez said, and the esprit-de-corps instincts that fuel Moustakas evoked the same sentiment even if you couldn’t quite hear what he said back.

Then Volquez held the trophy and looked it up and down with a priceless gleam in his eye.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “Look at that.”

No more unbelievable than what Volquez achieved against incalculable odds.

In a game for the ages, he yielded one measly earned run (and two overall) and two hits in six innings.

That buoyed the Royals for the ninth-inning comeback to tie it 2-2, which in turn set up the five-run, 12th-inning haymaker in the 7-2 win Sunday that seized their first World Series title since 1985.

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It was all surreal to Volquez, but he also felt accompanied not just by the teammates who loved him up but by the gaze of his father.

When he was talking to the bullpen to warm up before the game, he said, “I feel like he was right behind me.”

He would feel his aura, too, standing behind him on the mound.

“You feel a lot of energy coming from the dirt, from the grass, all the way to your head,” he said. “And (telling) you to … just do your best for the team.”

Late Saturday night, a subdued Volquez himself had seemed to wonder if he could come through in such a moment with so much emotion surging through him.

“I’m pretty sure my dad is going to be proud of me when I pitch tomorrow on the mound,” he said then. “We’ll see.”

His father no doubt would have been proud of his son merely finding it within himself to take the mound days after his funeral in the Dominican on Wednesday — a day after he died unbeknownst to Volquez hours before his start in Game 1 of the World Series.

But what Volquez summoned was a poignant performance beyond what anyone could have imagined, the sort of thing that might have been rejected by Hollywood for being too fantastic.

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The performance was forged through various flashpoints, including Mets leadoff man Curtis Granderson welcoming him with a home run on a dangling change-up.

If he was feeling fragile or vulnerable or having trouble concentrating before that, Volquez willed himself to be galvanized:

He urged himself simply to stay calm and focused in that pivotal spot, and he was revived by striking out David Wright and Daniel Murphy.

“ ‘Now you’re pitching,’ ” he told himself. “ ‘You’re in the game now.’ ”

The Mets wouldn’t manage another hit until the sixth inning — thus only then notching more than Volquez himself.

In his first at-bat, Volquez had smacked a single to right that represented the first hit by a pitcher in Royals’ postseason history.

The quirky breakthrough also was reassuringly punctuated by the sight of Volquez grinning and yukking it up in an exchange of gestures with teammates in the dugout.

As he prepared to bat, the normally bubbly Volquez had playfully told pitching coach Dave Eiland, “I’m one of the best hitters on the team” … even though he has a career average of .083

He would leave after yielding one more run in a sixth that was both fortunate and unfortunate but ultimately a crucial victory for the Royals.

The Mets loaded the bases with no outs on a walk to Granderson with a narrow ball four that clearly vexed Volquez, a hit by Wright and an error by Eric Hosmer.

But Volquez extricated himself and the Royals from the trap with a solitary run, on a sacrifice fly, to keep them well in range of contention considering the postseason fondness for late rallies.

On this night, though, perhaps the most profound comeback was the one by Volquez.

“Phenomenal,” manager Ned Yost called him.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of that kid,” owner David Glass said. “He really stood tall tonight. You can’t ask for any more than we got from him.”

Especially under the circumstances.

Yost had maintained since Wednesday that he expected Volquez to pitch Game 5, but Volquez wasn’t at all certain of that.

He was finally leaning that way when he arrived in New York until Saturday from the Dominican, but it wasn’t until then, back among teammates, that he was sure.

Then suddenly he was left staring at a fraught task that resembled what unfathomably had been carried out previously this season by teammates Chris Young and Moustakas.

Each had played the very day after (and beyond) learning of the death of a parent, believing that to be a way to honor their wishes and perhaps to take sanctuary in the game and among teammates.

As painful as the losses were for Moustakas, who lost his mother, Connie, and Young, who lost his father, Charles, each had known his parent was fighting cancer and took some consolation in seeing them in the weeks before their deaths.

Volquez’s father died suddenly of heart-related issues on Tuesday, just before he was to pitch Game 1.

The jarring news was withheld from him by request of his wife, Roandry, who wanted him to be able to pitch.

In hindsight, Volquez endorsed her judgment because he didn’t believe he’d have been able to pitch had he known.

Sunday, though, would be different, having to perform with the grief of knowing of the death of the father, a mechanic who he called “one of the greatest men.”

He was the one who bought him his first gloves and spikes and drove him to emulate Pedro Martinez.

“He was everything for me … ,” Volquez said. “He put me in the right way.”

But from the moment he returned to the team, Volquez said, they helped him be “in the right way,” too.

He was swarmed with hugs and smothered in words of encouragement.

“It was unreal,” he said, later adding, “I never thought I would get so much love from a lot of people, even outside of the clubhouse and out of baseball.

“And I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot of people that really care about what happened to me.’ And it’s a great feeling.”

Embraced by an exceptionally close team, Volquez managed to be there for them, too.

Even if a form of precedent seemed to be set by Moustakas and Young, every circumstance of mourning is different and there was no assurance Volquez could find a way to compartmentalize it, too.

“We certainly did not expect him to come back,” Hosmer said, “and be ready to pitch in a World Series game.”

But he did — and found a certain solace in an achievement he shared with so many near and far.

“It makes you feel better,” Volquez said as he thumbed the cork of a champagne bottle in the clubhouse. “You feel a lot of pain in your heart, and then you come to the ballpark and you feel a lot of support and a lot of love when you need it.”

“This is the thing I play for.”

And this, too:

“I was hoping to make people proud,” he said. “I think my dad is.”

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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