Behind them all stood Edinson Volquez with a broad smile that said "I just won the World Series." Except that he didn't. He didn't even win the game. In fact, The D-backs beat him up for five runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings on a sloppy night before he was pulled.
Volquez was fine with being just OK. More than fine, in fact -- he was elated. The right-hander knows the best is yet to come, which is good news for the Reds and not so good for rest of the league.
"Sometimes they hit good pitches. What are you going to do?" he said. "Look at this arm. No pain. I'm strong. I'm back, baby. I'm back."
Volquez is 3-1 with a 4.98 ERA in seven starts since returning to the big leagues from Tommy John surgery last year. The velocity on his mid-90s mph fastball is back but the command of the pitch isn't. He's walked 24 hitters in 34 1/3 innings. He's scrapped his slider for a curveball, and his changeup is back to making hitters look silly. He is averaging more than a strikeout an inning.
"It's been a real boost to us and it's been a boost to him," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "He's done all the throwing protocol that has been asked of him and he's worked really hard. He believes there is no reason to re-injure his arm, so he goes for it."
Volquez's return could not have come at a better time for the Reds. The club is trying to fight off the Cardinals for the top spot in the NL Central, and if Volquez pitches anything like he did when he won 17 games in 2008, the folks in Cincinnati could be headed for a red October.
"I didn't expect to come back and be Cy Young or pitch eight or nine innings from the start, but I'm happy with what I've been able to do," he said. "I'm very happy."
Volquez could be the happiest player in baseball. His laughter fills the clubhouse. He smiles like a little leaguer on the mound. With his personality and his flying dreadlocks, he acts like a court jester, and looks like one, too.
He speaks English so eloquently that one reporter asked if he still remembered how to speak Spanish.
But "Volky" also has a serious side. He grimaces when asked about the Tommy John surgery that ruined last season. He shakes his head when asked about the 50-game suspension that came down earlier this year for violating Major League Baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Et tu, Volquez?
Volquez knows his suspension earlier this season disappointed fans, friends and his family in the United States and the Dominican Republic, where he was born and raised. It also surprised former teammates. He didn't miss a game because he served his suspension while rehabilitating his arm but still lost $120,000 in salary. The fun-loving reputation of this Dominican dandy also took a hit. He later released a statement, claiming responsibility for the mistake and suspension, and said he took the drugs to "treat a common medical issue and start a family."
Volquez's explanation was similar to that provided by Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez last season, after he was suspended for 50 games. Some experts doubted the defense. Volquez is sticking to his story.
"People can think what they want to think," he said, sitting in his locker. "They have the freedom to think what they want. I know the truth. What I said in the statement was true. It was about my family."
Family matters most to Volquez. He has an eight-year old daughter from a previous relationship but has been trying to have a baby with his wife Roandry Debran for almost a decade. The couple has endured two miscarriages in recent years, both late in the pregnancies. Last year, they decided it was time to try again. They consulted a doctor in the Dominican Republic. The timing was right, he recalled. Volquez was a full-time big league player and he had saved enough money to help his extended family in the DR and grow his own family. He sought advice from a physician he trusted in the Dominican Republic. As he tells it, it turned out to be a big mistake.
Debran's tests came back negative. Volquez's test came back positive.
He admits his biggest mistake was not knowing what was on the list of banned substances. But he reiterates his desire to have more children was not a mistake. He just bought a house near The Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. His wife is there, waiting for his return from the road.
"Family is what provides you the support you need. They give you help," he said. "We are Latinos, we're Dominican, and family is the most important thing to us. You can take all this baseball away but you can't take my family. That is who I am and what I want."
Volquez is also a program offender. He said he's subjected to random drug tests a few times a month and although he understands the program's rules, he still finds the tests annoying.
"I'm not cheating. I never have," he said. "But they do what they have to do, and I do what they say when they want. What can I do? Nothing. "
For starters, Volquez can pitch. He could make as many as eight starts down the stretch. He can also daydream about a having a child with his wife.
"It's going to be one the greatest days of my life," he said. "We've been together so long and we want a child so bad. It's the best thing that can happen to a man."