KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Yordano Ventura has an electric right arm, one that has charged an entire franchise and its fan base.
Who knows how good Ventura can be? For now, the Royals need him to be good tonight as they look to even up the World Series at a game apiece after San Francisco’s buzz-killing 7-1 win in Game 1 on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Ventura is a rookie, being thrown in there against Giants veteran right-hander Jake Peavy, who finally made it to a World Series in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox after going to Boston in a trade-deadline deal with the Chicago White Sox.
Peavy was shipped to San Francisco this season from Boston in another trade-deadline maneuver.
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Ventura isn’t getting traded anytime soon because the Royals are eager to see just what they have.
He can throw a baseball 100 mph and he has a wicked slider. He was 14-10 during the regular season with a 3.20 ERA. And he pitched 183 innings, far more than he’s thrown in any season since the Royals signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, when he was 17.
How much more does Ventura have? How long can he last?
We’re about to find out.
“Yeah, he'll be excited, I'm sure,” Peavy said of Ventura. “Everybody playing in this game, there is a lot of excitement. A lot of youth, a lot of energy, I think, on both sides. I think we all know how talented he is, and we'll try to hopefully take advantage of some of the excitement. You try to look for any edge you have, and I don't know if it's an edge by any means. He's going to throw balls close to 100 miles an hour with a really good slider. We'll have our work cut out for us, for sure.
“But, yeah, he's young, and he's, I'm sure, going to come out guns a’blazing and be really excited, as he should be; it's the World Series.”
Ventura is hardly the first rookie to make a World Series start. But he’s the first rookie to do so for the Royals.
Just last season, St. Louis Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha, then 22, had a tremendous postseason. In Game 2 of the World Series against Boston, he allowed three hits and two runs in six innings in a game St. Louis won.
In 2010, 20-year-old Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who was superb against the Royals in Game 1 on Tuesday night, pitched eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers, allowing only three hits and striking out six during a 4-0 San Francisco win.
In 1971, right-hander Bruce Kison of the Pittsburgh Pirates, just 21, allowed only one hit and struck out three during 6 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
New York Yankees rookie right-hander Mel Stottlemyre, 22, started three games in the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was outstanding in Games 2 and 5 before losing Game 7.
Another Yankee rookie, 21-year-old Whitey Ford, did not allow an earned run in 8 2/3 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the 1950 World Series.
Don’t count out Ventura because he’s young. His stuff is good enough to beat the Giants. It’ll come down to how he handles the moment, and Ventura’s mound presence and poise have been excellent.
Ventura was a real reach when the Royals picked him up. He weighed about 125 pounds at the time, he said, and didn’t throw particularly hard. But he and the Royals knew there was an excellent pitcher lurking within. And the KC player development personnel have always loved Ventura’s confidence.
“When I was young, 14, 15 years old I played with people who were 30 years old in leagues in the Dominican,” Ventura said. “I would pitch against them, would throw inside and had that and I developed that confidence to get them out, and I had to fight to be able to do that and never back down. It's carried on for me.”
Ventura is a throwback for Kansas City to an era when the Royals developed so many outstanding starting pitchers. It started with Paul Splittorff, a 25th-round selection in 1968, the first draft in which the Royals participated. And it continued with pitchers like Doug Bird (third round, 1969), Steve Busby (second round, 1971), Dennis Leonard (second round, 1972), Rich Gale (fifth round, 1975), Mark Gubicza (second round, 1981), Bret Saberhagen (19th round, 1982), Danny Jackson (first round, secondary draft, 1982), Tom Gordon (sixth round, 1986), Kevin Appier (first round, 1987) and Zack Greinke (first round, 2002).
Peavy was a 15th round selection by the San Diego Padres in 1999 and made it to the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 2002. When he was 23, in 2004, he led the National League in ERA (15-6, 2.27) with the Padres. He was 19-6 with a league-leading 2.54 ERA for the Padres in 2007, but hasn’t been the same since.
He was just 1-9 with Boston this season before being traded to the Giants, where he’s again found success. In 12 starts for San Francisco, Peavy was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA.
He pitches on guile and toughness now, lacking the powerful fastball that helped him quickly rise through the Padres organization.
Ventura still has the heat, and lots of it. It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays tonight in a game the Royals need to win. If they don’t, the Giants take a 2-0 edge home to San Francisco.