Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Boys to Men: The Julio Urias Story

Danville, Kentucky -- Times of hardship forge bonds of fellowship. Adversity can be a crucible, fashioning ties stronger than steel. In war, your fellow soldiers are your brothers. Crouching in a muddy foxhole as artillery thunders loudly inches from your prone, bloodied body, your companions are your only refuge.

So it is war, so it is in baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers have not seen the foxholes of Belgium, but they are nonetheless a rag-tag band of brothers. The 2016 Dodgers perfectly embody America's "Melting Pot" ideal. The pure chemistry this team shows is enough to make you forget they have a $200+ million dollar payroll and are the subject of a Molly Knight book. The team is a veritable multicultural hodge podge of superstars and gritty role-players, gelling together as one seamless unit. Take a look at some of this team's impact players. There's Clayton Kershaw, Cy Young, ace, unquestioned leader, and emotional bedrock of team. Rich Hill, a 36 year-old journeyman and finesse-pitching maestro. Adrian Gonzalez, 34 year-old clutch-hitting slugger, who with each timely knock makes a case for being the Kirk Gibson of this year's Dodger team. Joe Blanton, 35 year-old comeback kid and relief ace. Kenta Maeda, a 28 year-old Japanese rookie. Yasiel Puig, Cuban superstar turned headcase turned superstar again after a trip to AAA Oklahoma City. Thanks to this melting pot of stars and scrubs, the Dodgers are doing what nobody thought they could: beating the Cubbies in the NLCS.

But folks, no player's contributions to this team have been more improbable than that of 20 year lefty Julio Urias of Culiac├ín, Mexico. He debuted at age 19 earlier in the 2016 season. He entered the 2016 postseason a boy: he left the pivotal Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series a man.

In times of war, boys lose their innocence. They do things that go against the teachings of their Sunday school teacher and the bible. They experience a trial by fire, and endure or perish. Julio Urias had his trial by fire, and he came out stronger.

At age 20, I was unemployed and trying to make cash by stealing parts from cars parked outside the local movie theater at night. At age 20, Urias was putting his name on the wall alongside other October legends. Little Julio Urias was not young enough to legally drink the celebratory champagne being popped in the Dodgers clubhouse after defeating the Washington Nationals in NLDS Game 5, but nonetheless threw 2 gutsy shutout innings in that game en route to becoming the youngest pitcher in MLB history to earn a win in a postseason game.

In Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, young Julio Urias will meet his mirror opposite: grisly postseason stalwart John Lackey of the Chicago Cubs. At age 37, Lackey already has two World Series titles to his name in addition to expansive postseason experience. Julio Urias hits mid to upper nineties with an electric fastball; Lackey usually sits in the low nineties with excellent command, unafraid to pitch to contact with the flashy Cubs defense behind him. Urias has an unassuming, boyish look about him, standing 6′ 0″ tall. John Lackey stands 6′ 6″ tall and resembles a crazed, murderous woodsman that you might encounter in a horror movie.

John Lackey: a perfect foil to Julio Urias
It would be easy to pick the Cubs to win this game. John Lackey has come up big in October time in and time out. Julio has pitched a total of two postseason innings in his nascent career. But the kid learns fast. In his first game against the Cubs on June 2nd, Julio went 5 innings and gave up 5 runs, including 3 home runs. In his next start against the Cubbies on August 27th, he went 6 innings and allowed 1 run. But here's the catch, folks: he was a boy then, and he's a man now. Nobody would blame you for penciling in a Cubs win when a 37 year-old bear of a veteran gets to face off against a 20 year-old rookie. But this isn't any 20 year-old: he's already pitched in higher leverage spots than some men ever will. I believe in the American melting pot experiment. I believe in Julio Urias.