He emerged in the clubhouse with splotches of Miller Lite still glistening in his closely-cropped hair. Yordano Ventura shivered as he walked across the Royals’ clubhouse, but he beamed as teammates called out to congratulate him on his first career victory after a 4-2 win Tuesday over the Houston Astros.
“He got the traditional beer shower when the game was over,” manager Ned Yost said. “He was all smiles.”
Similar expressions could be seen around the room.
Omar Infante homered, and Eric Hosmer ripped an RBI double to power the offense with a “couple of timely hits,” Hosmer said.
Ventura gave up two runs, one earned, in seven innings. Wade Davis struck out two in a wipeout eighth inning, and Greg Holland picked up his second save of the year as the Royals, 5-7, capitalized on their bottom-dwelling foes and snapped a three-game losing streak.
A few hours before the game, Ventura lay on his stomach on a training table inside the visitors clubhouse at Minute Maid Park. A pair of headphones covered his ears and his eyes were fixed on his iPad screen. He could not contain his laughter.
On the mound, Ventura looks steely and confident. He poses the sort of body language that causes team officials to swoon. Yet off it he still resembles a 22-year-old, the sort of youngster capable of delighting in a TV show hours before a lifelong milestone.
“He feels really good,” said Bruce Chen, who translates for Ventura. “The team supported him. They played really good defense, and they scored a lot of runs for him, and it gives him a lot of satisfaction.”
Ventura, 1-0, struck out seven and threw 101 pitches Tuesday. It was the fifth start of his career, and yet another example of the dynamic potential that so tantalizes this organization.
He succeeded on an evening when his full arsenal was not at his disposal. His curveball was ineffective. His fastball rarely touched triple digits. He walked three batters. He committed an error that allowed a first-inning run to score. And still he was efficient and unbending in the face of trouble.
Ventura faced his biggest jam in his final inning.
He yielded a leadoff hit to third baseman Matt Dominguez and a two-out walk to shortstop Jonathan Villar. Facing outfielder Dexter Fowler, Ventura fooled his opponent with a first-pitch change-up, which caused Fowler to ground into a harmless out.
“I thought he did a great job of getting us out of the seventh inning there,” Yost said.
In the wake of the recent calamity in Minnesota, the Royals entered Minute Maid Park with the worst record in the American League.
The Royals looked like a full-scale disaster against the Twins: Their starting pitching stumbled, their bullpen continued to regress and the offense was mostly lifeless. The Royals entered Tuesday night’s game with just one home run swatted by the entire roster.
The statistics barely elicited a change of expression fromYost. He remained stoic as he discussed the power outage.
“We’ve got guys that can hit home runs,” Yost said. “We don’t have guys that can hit 50. But we’ve got guys that can hit 20 to 25.”
On that list, Yost included players such as Hosmer (19 in 2011), Alex Gordon (23 in 2011), Billy Butler (29 in 2012), Salvador Perez (13 in 2013) and Mike Moustakas (20 in 2012). Even Infante, his No. 2 hitter, collected 22 in his last two seasons in Detroit.
It was Infante who jolted the team’s offense to life Tuesday. He tagged a 92-mph fastball from Astros starter Lucas Harrell into the Crawford Boxes, the hitter-friendly seating section that serves as a short porch in left field.
In the third, Infante plated a second run by beating out a potential double-play grounder, and Hosmer brought him home by thumping a double off those Crawford Boxes. Butler lofted a fifth-inning sacrifice fly.
Ventura had come close to a win before. He tossed six scoreless in his 2014 debut, but came up empty. The team was relieved to reward him Tuesday.
“To finally get that out of the way, get him his first major-league win, it was big for all of us,” Yost said. “We were all excited about it.”