KANSAS CITY -- The story of Chris Young's stellar performance in the Royals' 2015 World Series championship run can't be told without first acknowledging the hardships he endured that season.As we approach another MLB postseason, we look back at some of the unlikely heroes of past postseasons, and few fans
KANSAS CITY -- The story of Chris Young's stellar performance in the Royals' 2015 World Series championship run can't be told without first acknowledging the hardships he endured that season.
As we approach another MLB postseason, we look back at some of the unlikely heroes of past postseasons, and few fans will forget the contributions of Young, the 6-foot-10 right-hander whom general manager Dayton Moore labeled the "MVP of the staff" that season.
But Young's heroics had a subtle beginning. After a solid campaign with the Mariners in 2014 while coming off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, Young had trouble finding a suitable offer from teams the following spring. Moore signed him just a few weeks before the regular season started.
• Each team's most unlikely postseason heroes
Young began that season in the bullpen, but injuries and ineffectiveness in the rotation persuaded manager Ned Yost to put Young in the rotation by May. Young was elated with the opportunity to start again and help the team every fifth day.
But while Young had appeared to solidify the back of the rotation, a mini-slump in late June and July (5.50 ERA) persuaded Yost to put Young back in the bullpen. Young admits now he was frustrated by the move.
"Chris and I talked quite a bit about it," Young's wife, Liz, said. "And I remember talking to [Young's father, Charles] about it and he just looked at me and calmly said, 'When it comes to Chris, it will all work out.'"
Chris and Liz never forgot those words from his father, who had been battling cancer for over three years and whose condition at the time was beginning to worsen.
Sure enough, late in September, Yost and his staff once again needed Young to make an adjustment for the benefit of the team. Once more, ineffectiveness at the back of the rotation forced Yost to ask Young to rejoin the rotation. Young was overjoyed.
But on Sept. 26, a cloudless blue-skied Saturday, as Young was preparing for the following day's start at home against Cleveland, he got a text from his sister that their father "wasn't looking too good."
"For three years of helping take care of my dad," Young said, "she had never said anything like that. So I knew it wasn't good."
Later that night, after the Royals' game, Young checked his cellphone and saw numerous messages from his family. His father had passed.
Thoughts flooded Young's mind. He looked for a flight home through Royals director of travel Jeff Davenport, but none could get him back to Dallas that night.
"I wanted so much to be with my family, to be with my dad," Young said, before pausing. "I also thought I owed it to my 24 teammates, the organization, the city, to pitch the next day. We were tied with Toronto for home-field advantage at the time and we had to have it, which turned out to be maybe the difference in us winning the championship."
Young decided the best way to honor his father was to stay in Kansas City and pitch. And did he ever.
Young tossed five no-hit innings against Cleveland in a much-needed win.
"I was as calm as I have ever been on the mound," Young said. "I'm not a deeply religious man, more spiritual than anything. But I didn't feel I was in control that day -- my dad was."
The minute he got back into the clubhouse after those five innings, it all hit him. He broke down in tears. And then he quickly headed for Dallas to be with his family for his father's funeral.
Young's contributions that season had only started. In the American League Championship Series, he was called upon in Game 4 in Toronto in another crucial game. The Royals and Johnny Cueto, up 2-0 in the series, had been pounded in Game 3 by the Blue Jays' intimidating lineup, and the momentum of the series had seemed to shift. Yost needed someone to calm the waters.
"I just remember thinking the night before, 'Hey, I got this. I got this. We're going to win,'" Young recalled. "I had never even pitched in Toronto before. But for some strange reason, I was completely at ease."
Young rose to the task, holding the Jays to two runs over 4 2/3 innings and the Royals cruised to a 14-2 win to go up 3-1 in the series. It was the turning point of the ALCS, assuring that the Royals would only need to win one more game if the series returned to Kansas City.
"I remember we were up something like 5-2 in the fifth inning," Yost said, "but a couple of guys got on and Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion were coming up in the middle of the order. I came out to get Chris and he was one out short of qualifying for a win. He just looked at me and said, 'Don't worry, skip. I'd have done the same thing.'"
Remembered Young, "At that moment, it's not about you. It's about the team, the organization, and trying to win a championship. That's all that matters."
Of course, many Royals fans also will remember Young for the three shutout innings in relief during the thrilling 14-inning Game 1 victory in the World Series against the Mets. Young got the win.
Later in the series, once again Young was called upon to stop an opponents' momentum. Once again it was in a Game 4.
The Mets had won Game 3 to pull within 2-1 in the series. A win by the Mets in Game 4 could have shifted the tide permanently. But on Halloween night, Young again delivered, holding the Mets to two runs over four innings, keeping the Royals in it.
"As a starting pitcher that season," Young said, "really, our only task was to keep the score down and keep the team close. We had such a dominant bullpen and we had such a knack for rallying late in games that all you wanted to do as a starter was to keep it close."
The next night, the Royals won Game 5 to grab their first World Series title in 30 years.
"I remember on the bus going to the ballpark that day," Young said, "and a bunch of guys were talking about how their NFL fantasy football teams had done that afternoon, and it was either Hoz [Eric Hosmer] or Dyse [Jarrod Dyson] who stood up and just kind of pronounced, 'Hey, there's only one game today.'"
Looking back, it was a season Young will never forget.
"The highest of highs," he said, "and the lowest of lows."
These days, Young works in the Commissioner's Office as the vice president of on-field operations, initiatives and strategy, a position he took in May.
"I have a lot to be thankful for," Young said.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.