For fans of a franchise that had gone a generation without seeing a playoff appearance from the Royals, Yordano Ventura was seen as a pitcher who could get the team to the next level.
As he winded his way up the ladder in the minor leagues, Ventura was among the top prospects in all of baseball, and he delivered on that promise, winning double-digit games in all three of his full seasons in the majors.
“Nobody could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates, how much he cared about the fans and how much he loved to compete and to pitch and to prepare,” Royals manager Dayton Moore said on a conference call. “This guy worked extremely hard.”
Ventura, who died Saturday in a vehicular crash in the Dominican Republic at the age of 25, appeared in 94 regular-season games (starting all but one of those contests) in four seasons overall. He also started nine games in the postseason to go along with that ill-fated relief appearance in the 2014 Wild Card Game.
Here are five of his memorable starts for the Royals.
The Royals were fighting an uphill battle to make the playoffs when Ventura was given the ball to make his debut against the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 17, 2013. There were more than 5,000 tickets sold to fans who walked up that Tuesday night, and Ventura’s first start was very good: 5 2/3 innings, five hits, three strikeouts, two walks and one earned run.
Cleveland won 5-3, but Ventura reached triple digits on the radar, impressed Indians manager Terry Francona, and Ventura got three standing ovations. The future seemed bright for Ventura.
Opening Day 2015
Ventura got the start to open the defense of the Royals’ American League championship, and he muzzled the White Sox, allowing one run on four hits in six innings. The Royals won 10-1, and Ventura wasn’t overpowering, but showed he could still dominate when he wasn’t blowing the ball past opposing hitters.
There were other subplots to this game, but Ventura wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment and turned in one of his best starts of the season.
Ventura had one nine-inning complete game in his career, and it came on Sept. 19, 2016 in an 8-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. The Royals were trying to stay in the playoff hunt, and Ventura gave up the three runs on nine hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Ventura had an eight-inning complete game earlier in 2016, but this was the only one that went nine innings. Moore said during Sunday’s conference call that Ventura told him during the offseason that he planned to throw more complete games in 2017.
Sadly, this was the last victory of Ventura’s career.
2014 ALDS, Game 2
You don’t hear this one mentioned that often, and it’s a shame.
The upstart Royals, who many thought wouldn’t win the AL Wild Card Game, certainly weren’t expected to be much of a match for the mighty Angels, who had rolled to the best record in the league. But the Royals won Game 1 of the AL Divisional Series, so the Angels had to win Game 2 to right the ship.
But Ventura kept the Angels’ bats silent for the most part allowing just one run on five hits over seven inning with five strikeouts and a walk. That helped push the game into extra innings and the Royals won 4-1 in 11 innings (remember Eric Hosmer’s home run?) as they continued their magical 2014 postseason run.
2014 World Series, Game 6
The day after the death of friend Oscar Taveras, a top prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals, Ventura took the mound with the Royals facing elimination in the World Series. It was arguably the best game of Ventura’s too-short career, but there is no doubt it’s the best-remembered game.
Ventura allowed just three hits to the Giants in seven innings on that October night, with five walks and four strikeouts. After walking the bases loaded in the third inning, Ventura got Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey to ground into a double play to end the threat. Ventura wouldn’t allow another runner to second until the seventh inning and the Royals coasted to a 10-0 win.