Last night, the Royals allowed Edinson Volquez to pitch six strong innings without telling him that, just before his start, his father passed away. This wasn't a cold, calculated decision. This was at the request of Volquez's wife, who brought the matter to the attention of Royals GM Dayton Moore and asked him not to tell her husband.
The Royals complied. Better still, the Fox broadcast team went along and refused to talk about it until after they had confirmed that Volquez himself had been told, reducing the chances he would accidentally find out. While Twitter was abuzz with the news, the people who could have told Volquez sat in compassionate silence. According to Big League Stew, the only player on the Royals who knew was Chris Young, in case something went wrong and he needed to start in Volquez's place.
It doesn't happen often, but I'm exceptionally proud of people today in and around the game of baseball. I'm proud of the Royals. I'm proud of Fox. I'm proud of Volquez and his family. In an exceptionally stressful moment, everyone acted with kindness, responsibility, and humanity. They listened to the person who knows Volquez the best and went to elaborate lengths to protect him.
And it's great to see someone looking out for Edinson Volquez, who has had a difficult road as a Major League player. Part of a trio of Rangers prospects who all looked like they were going to be busts at one point, he found his footing with the Reds in 2008, winning 17 games and striking out more than a batter per inning. Then came Tommy John Surgery in 2009, and a long recovery. He lost velocity and he lost control. At 30, he was a nine year veteran with almost five walks per nine innings and a 4.75 career ERA, and was coming off a career-low K/9.
Then the Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage found him and fixed him. He posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2008 even as his strikeouts continued to drop. Then he signed with the Royals and got even better. I don't pretend to understand what exact adjustments Volquez made that turned him from an afterthought into a Game 1 starter in the World Series. What seems to have happened, however, is that he is better able to induce batters to make weak contact outside of the strike zone. Rather than blowing batters away, he is trusting his defense to make plays behind him. It's counterintuitive to what we prefer to have pitchers do in 2015, but he's in front of defenders that make it work.
The Royals needed to upgrade their pitching this offseason. They could have tried to reunite with Ervin Santana. They could have braved Brett Anderson or Brandon McCarthy. They could have retained James Shields. It's to their credit that they looked past higher profile and more expensive options to choose Edinson Volquez as Shields's replacement. Without him, they wouldn't be playing in the World Series in the first place. But last night, the Royals proved they were the right choice for Volquez as well.