Christian Colon heard the news around 5:45 p.m., a few hours before Friday’s 7-1 Royals’ victory. He was walking off the field after scooping groundballs before the game when Royals manager Ned Yost pulled him aside. Colon, Yost explained, would start at second base.
When Omar Infante suffered a recurrence of tightness in his lower back, the team scratched him and inserted Colon into the lineup. To prevent his heart from leaping out of his chest, Colon reminded himself to enjoy this moment. He would only make the first start of his major-league career once.
“The main thing was just go and enjoy the moment,” Colon said. “Soak it up. Let’s see what happens.”
He could not have asked for more. Colon catalyzed the Royals (45-40) offense with a triple in his first at-bat, a double in his second and an RBI double in his last time up. He scored twice on singles by Lorenzo Cain.
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The Royals selected Colon with the fourth pick in the 2010 draft. For so much of his career, he has been tied with the players chosen after him on that day, like White Sox ace Chris Sale or Mets starter Matt Harvey. Colon profiles as a utility man in the majors. But on his first full night in the majors, he made a bid to be something more.
To add to Colon’s sterling production, Mike Moustakas boomed a three-run shot to provide a healthy cushion for starter Yordano Ventura, and bolster the team’s fourth win in five games.
Ventura limited Cleveland to six hits across 8 1/3 innings. He relied on a combination of weak contact and stingy defense. When the Indians struck line drives, the Royals defenders ensnared them. A solo home run by Michael Brantley spoiled Ventura’s bid for a shutout, but Ventura still awed those in his dugout. “He was extraordinary,” Yost said.
Colon’s tour of duty might extend past Friday. Infante missed 17 games with back trouble in May. And Colon catalyzed an otherwise sluggish lineup until Moustakas broke through in the sixth.
“That was a huge, huge home run,” Yost said. “Gave us a lot of breathing room.”
The blast allowed Yost to extend Ventura’s night. In the middle of his first full season in the majors, Ventura has shown little sign of fatigue. He authored an excellent June, with an ERA of 2.90, and began July on an even better note.
“He felt like he was pitching in and out,” said Bruce Chen, who translates for Ventura. “Then taking some off, and adding some to his pitches. That was how he was able to go deep in the game.”
His teammates afforded him an early lead. The second pitch Colon saw was a 90-mph fastball. Indians starter Josh Tomlin spotted it on the outer half of the plate in the third inning. Colon slashed the ball past center fielder Michael Bourn, and he raced into third base. Cain brought Colon home by looping a single into right.
Ventura bulldozed the Indians for the first three innings. He induced a bevvy of groundballs, fanned Jason Kipnis with a 100-mph fastball and kept his opponents hitless. An outburst of Cleveland offense in the fourth afforded Ventura another opportunity to shine.
After a pair of one-out singles placed runners at the corners, Kipnis stepped in once again. Ventura whipped an 98-mph fastball. The pitch hovered over the middle at the knees. Kipnis tapped a grounder to Colon, who ignited an inning-ending double play.
“He’s got such electric stuff,” Moustakas said. “All of his pitches are disgusting. When he’s able to command and control like he did today, it shows a lot to how he’s grown up as a pitcher.”
Colon continued to hector Tomlin in the fifth. He fell behind, 0-2, but still yanked a fastball on the hands into the left-field corner for a double. In the next at-bat, Cain splashed a double into the same area for his second RBI of the game.
Moustakas allowed Ventura more room to breathe. Ventura took advantage. In the eighth inning, his fastball still sizzled in the triple digits. Indians catcher Yan Gomes flailed at a 100-mph heater for Ventura’s fourth strikeout of the evening.
On his 101st pitch, Ventura yielded his first extra-base hit to Cleveland. It was a double for Bourn. The subsequent at-bat was more representative of the night. Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a meek fly to right field, and Ventura stomped into his dugout with his ledger still spotless.
In the aftermath, Colon could not say the same about his gear. His teammates soaked him with water and doused him with shaving cream, as they do so often for the man they deem player of the game. It was a fitting end to the first start of his career.
“That was a lot of fun,” Colon said. “I’m so happy that I’m with this group of guys. We had a great time. And that’s what I told myself: Just go out there, enjoy it, and try to help.”