With a different approach, Yordano Ventura did his job.
In the biggest game of the year, Ventura gave the Royals five innings of one-run starting pitching, marking the first time in the postseason he started a game and surrendered fewer than three runs.
Ventura left the game with the Royals leading 2-1. They went on to win Game 6 of the ALCS 4-3 to capture their second straight American League pennant.
Ventura didn’t figure in the decision. He was in line for a potential victory until the Blue Jays tied the game in the eighth inng with a two-run homer by Jose Bautista off reliever Ryan Madson. The game was then delayed by rain.
When it resumed, the Royals went ahead in the eighth inning and held on to capture their second straight league championship.
All 22 batters Ventura faced saw him pitch from the stretch, not only with runners on base but also with the bases empty.
The maneuver appeared to create less movement and more focus. And it worked.
After surrendering a leadoff double down the right field line to Ben Revere, Ventura calmly struck out Josh Donaldson, got Jose Bautista to fly out to right and retired Edwin Encarnacion on a grounder to shortstop.
Ventura slowly walked off the mound toward the dugout, not looking up. He was locked in.
The next nine Blue Jays were retired in order. Then Ventura made his only mistake, leaving a fastball over the middle of the plate. Bautista crushed it for his first ALCS home run, 428 feet to the left field seats.
The inning ended with Ventura striking out Troy Tulowitzki. Here Ventura showed emotion, staring at Tulowitzki as he walked toward the dugout long enough for home plate umpire Jeff Nelson to wave Ventura away.
Perhaps that episode contributed to Ventura’s lack of concentration to open the fifth. Facing the Blue Jays’ seventh and eighth hitters, Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar, Ventura issued a pair of five-pitch walks.
At this point, Luke Hochevar started warming up in the Royals’ bullpen. But Ventura returned to the strike zone.
After a sacrifice-bunt attempt by Ryan Goins rolled foul, Ventura got the ninth-place hitter to pop out to center field. Ben Revere followed with a fly out to right.
Donaldson then tore into Ventura’s first pitch and hit a vicious line drive to the left side. Mike Moustakas went to his knees and laid out to snare the third out.
With the heart of the Blue Jays order due up in the sixth, would Royals manager Ned Yost allow Ventura to start the inning? At this juncture in Game 5 on Wednesday, Edinson Volquez started the inning trailing 1-0 and the inning ended with the Jays having a 5-0 lead. Volquez loaded the bases and walked in a run without recording an out before he was lifted.
Ventura started the inning on Friday, getting Bautista to fly to center. When Encarnacion roped a double to left field, Yost shot out of the dugout and was pointing to his lifted right arm just after crossing the first-base line.
Kelvin Herrera entered the game, got out of the inning, and Ventura’s night was over having surrendered four hits with five strikeouts and two walks.
He had outdueled Blue Jays starter David Price, who surrendered solo home runs to Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas to give Ventura the early lead. Price left the game in the seventh and was charged with three runs.
Ventura had entered the game with a 6.57 ERA in the postseason, having surrendered nine earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. His only decision was a loss in Game 1 of the division series against the Astros, when Ventura was pulled after two innings in a rain delay while trailing.
Ventura was the Opening Day starter, and the Royals arranged their postseason rotation to allow Ventura to take the ball in the first game of the playoffs.
But he didn’t deliver a dominant effort until Friday, getting handing a lead to the bullpen. He had done his job.