Whatever combustible factors were at play in the seventh-inning fracas Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago — including the apparent verbal jabs of the White Sox’s Adam Eaton and the continuing idiotic provocations of Jeff Samardzija — Royals starter Yordano Ventura was the epicenter and pivot point of the controversy.
Just over 48 hours after Ventura said through a translator that he’s “definitely not looking to do this again, ever.”
Instead of being repentant about an incident that got him fined by Major League Baseball on Tuesday and his pattern of tantrums, Ventura seemed emboldened by the flimsy penalty of an undisclosed amount of mere money.
In the news business, as the saying goes, twice is a coincidence but three times is a trend.
So after either igniting or escalating tiffs with the Angels and Mike Trout, the A’s and Brett Lawrie and now the White Sox, it no longer can be doubted that Ventura has developed an issue with self-control.
And it’s an issue that’s tainting the image of the Royals, whose demonstrative style of play is abrasive to some to begin with.
Their abandon, combined with Ventura’s antics (and Kelvin Herrera’s wild behavior against the A’s), has in the span of a few weeks whisked the Royals from cuddly underdogs to virtual villains in the national lens.
Maybe some Royals fans don’t much mind after 28-plus years of feeling oppressed both by the actual haplessness of the franchise and the laughable perception of it from outside — an indignity that can’t help but seep into a community, too.
If you’re feeling that way, though, it’s a view worth reviewing.
Because there is something disconcerting about the trajectory of the Royals’ behavior and what it stands for.
It was one thing to band together and to stand up for yourself and even to retaliate in the wake of the Lawrie incident and Scott Kazmir’s curious control blip.
Even accounting for Herrera’s dangerous pitch behind Lawrie and the ugly gesture of pointing to his head afterward, the Royals seemed to be properly defending themselves after a season-long barrage of batters being hit by pitches … starting, in fact, with Samardzija intentionally hitting Lorenzo Cain in the opener.
That all seemed a just cause, even if was imperfectly executed.
Thursday, though, represented a tipping point in reality and perception by even the most sympathetic standards.
Sure, the White Sox were complicit in this, just like every … single … team the Royals have played this year.
But the X-factor was Ventura, who seems bent not just on defending but antagonizing — and appears incapable of shrugging off being baited.
OK, yes, that stuff speaks to his intensity.
But it speaks more accurately to how it’s overpowering him.
After a rookie season in which he largely demonstrated remarkable poise and composure that was highlighted in game six of the World Series, Ventura repeatedly has come unhinged in his new role.
He’s produced only 22 innings in four starts, each of which ended with ultimately self-inflicted issues (twice by cramping, twice by ejections).
“He’s a No. 1 starter; I think he feels like he’s got big shoes to fill,” manager Ned Yost told reporters after the game Thursday, a 3-2 Royals win in 13 innings. “But it’s his arm that does the talking.
“Or, needs to do the talking.”
One of the preseason concerns about this Royals team was how it would replace its veteran leaders, most notably James Shields and Raul Ibañez.
Now would be the time for someone on the team (not to mention among his coaches) to emerge with Ventura.
His competitive spirit might be admirable, but it must be harnessed before its excesses sabotage his profound potential — and further contribute to defining the Royals in an unseemly way.