Chris Young didn’t need to pitch on Sunday afternoon. The Royals clinched the division on Thursday. They slept walked their way through games on Friday and Saturday against the Cleveland Indians.

But Chris Young wanted to pitch.

He wanted to pitch for his father, who unbeknownst to everyone outside the Royals clubhouse, had passed away in the late hours of Saturday evening. It was amazing Young was able to take the ball. It was even more amazing he was able to post one of his best starts as a Royal.

Young was signed by the Royals late last winter as an insurance policy against a rotation they knew to be unstable. He had had success last season with the Seattle Mariners, but had run out of gas in the second half. Still, after a year where he finished with a 3.65 ERA in 165 innings spanning 29 starts, he figured to get more than one major league offer. Yet, that was all he received.

Now, with one week left in the regular season, Young’s presence on the staff has proven to be worth every bit of that insurance policy the Royals needed to cash in. He has made 32 appearances and Sunday’s start was his 19th on the season. In 112 innings, he owns a 3.29 ERA to go along with a 6.1 SO/9. He steadied the rotation in the early season when arm trouble felled Jason Vargas. While he outpitched his peripherals (his 4.72 FIP was only second to Jeremy Guthrie among Royals starters) he survived on a fastball/slider combo to grit his way through starts.

He did just that on Sunday, throwing five no-hit innings against the Indians. He allowed a solitary base runner. (Michael Brantley walked in the fourth.) He helped his team get back on track after a pair of hangover losses. Young’s start set the tone for the week ahead. The Royals and Blue Jays are deadlocked for the number one seed in the American League and the home field advantage that goes with it.

Young was not around after the game; he had already departed to be with his family. He did, however, release a statement.

“Last night my dad, Charles Young, passed away at the age of 70. Today, I had the opportunity to honor him playing a game we both love, alongside my baseball family. I felt him next to me with every pitch. I am grateful for the support of my teammates, coaches and the entire Royals organization during this difficult time. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.”

Words fail me at this moment. I’m sure his dad would be proud.
The game on Sunday turned on an instant replay. Long time readers know my feelings on replay. The system is inadequate and damaged.
It’s not even worth the bandwidth to recount in this space what happened. It was a mess. Thankfully, Mike Moustakas was there to let the third base umpire know he completely blew the play where he ruled Lindor tagged up at third. Why it took two replays to determine this, who the hell knows. At least we know Moustakas isn’t going to put up with this bullshit. He is on our side. The umpire wasn’t paying attention to the play at his base. He wasn’t paying attention. He blew it.  Replay is there to fix that, but it just doesn’t make sense that the system has to be put through such a review we have an almost seven minute delay.
If you’re going to have a replay system, drop these silly challenges and get everything correct.
Meanwhile, this is a big week for Kansas City if you believe home field advantage in the postseason is an enormous – and necessary – thing. Me… I’m not so sure it is. It can be I suppose if your team is built for a particular ballpark. Yet we just don’t seem to see that anymore. I’m thinking the old Royals teams on the artificial turf and the old Whitey Herzog Cardinal teams, specifically. Or maybe the days when the Twins shattered eardrums in their old dome.
Home field could come into play in a decisive game in a series. It certainly helped the Royals in the Wild Card game as Kansas City elevated The K off it’s foundation and the final at bat proved crucial. So that’s a good example. Yet, after that game the Royals owned home field advantage in exactly one series last October and it was the one they lost. At home. In the seventh game. So it didn’t really help as the San Francisco pitcher who shall not be named was able to overcome any advantage home field could provide. One win. One loss. Basically, anytime anyone says they have it all figured out about baseball, they’re either lying or they’re dumb.
Baseball thought so little of home field advantage in the past, they simply rotated who got the extra game in a series up until just a few years ago. Kansas City has some history with this. The 1976 Royals were walked off in New York. The 1977 Royals were three outs away from celebrating in Royals Stadium before the Yankees scored three in the top of the ninth. Such is baseball.
Over the last several years, we have seen a footballization of baseball. Wild cards, replay, and yes, home field advantage. Some of the changes of the game have been necessary to advance the sport in the 21st century. (Wild card has been a huge success and I’m actually for the second wild card team, simply for the fact it brings the one game playoff into the mix.) The downside is, it brings about a certain mentality in watching the game that doesn’t benefit baseball. While I was counting down the magic number for the division, a number of people would reply to me that winning the division didn’t matter… Home field advantage was paramount. I couldn’t understand this. Maybe I’m just too old school of a baseball fan, but the winning the division was a hell of an accomplishment, on par with advancing to the World Series. I don’t care that the Tigers took a huge step to the back of the line. Or that the White Sox were beyond mediocre again. Or that the Indians shot themselves in the foot with another slow start. Or that the Twins just weren’t good enough. None of that matters to me. What matters is that the Royals showed themselves to be the class of the division. They won and they’re in. Yes.
Having said all that, home field advantage can serve to keep our attention during this final week of the season. With the division race all but settled, we have to have something to track, right?