There was a conversation I had on multiple occasions this off-season about what the loss of James Shields would do to the Royals. The conversation usually went something like:
Friend: "Without Shields, they're probably going to not be very good, huh?"
Me: "I think they might actually be about the same, maybe slightly better."
Friend: "Why is that?"
Me: "Well, Ventura and Duffy should improve. And Volquez is at least a marginal upgrade over the starts they got from Bruce Chen. Presuming Vargas and Guthrie are what they did last year, there's reason to believe that the rotation can be just as strong, at least in the early part of the year."
Friend: "That's stupid. You're stupid."
And now I have no more friends.
What I do have is a moderately-sized television, a cable subscription, and a lot of free time, which means I get to spend my Sunday afternoons watching Royals games. Games like the one I witnessed today, that saw a twenty-three year-old starting pitcher in his second season give up a first inning home run to the best hitter of the last fifteen years. It was an act which would have crumbled the psyche of many others, and would normally have made for a long day of casually channel surfing and returning to get drop-ins on the half innings of games.
But this isn't a normal twenty-three year-old. This is Yordano Ventura. This is the future, our future; and the fire is real.
After the first inning home run, Ventura retired the next seven batters in a row, striking out three and pushing his game total on strikeouts to five. In the fourth, he walked Mike Trout to lead off the inning, but recorded three straight outs in a row, picking up two more strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Royals offense turned another first inning deficit around quickly. In the top of the second, the Singles Train made a stop at The Rocks, as Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, and Salvador Perez led off the inning with consecutive base hits to tie the game. Paulo Orlando grounded out, then Omar Infante reached on an error, plating another run. Hercules Escobar then stepped in and clubbed a C.J. Wilson offering into deep left field, missing a home run by inches and ending up with a bases-clearing double, giving the Royals a 4-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
They added two runs in the fifth. After Moustakas was hit by a pitch (the tenth time a Royal has been hit this season. The league average is 2.47), Kendrys Morales singled and Alex Rios doubled into the left field corner, picking up his sixth and seventh RBI on the year.
In the sixth, Paulo Orlando tripled and Escobar hit a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 7-1.
In the bottom half of the frame, things got sideways between Mike Trout and Yordano Ventura. Trout singled on a line drive to center, the Angels first hit since the aforementioned first inning home run. Ventura was staring down the AL MVP as he jogged to first, to which Trout took offense. When he came around to score later on a double by Albert Pujols, Trout mentioned to Ventura that he didn't appreciate the way Yordano was looking at him. Ventura said something, and Perez stepped between the two of them before things went any further. However, the benches and bullpens cleared before the game resumed.
The Angels successfully managed to bring the crowd into the game for the first time since the fourth inning of their home opener on Friday, and Ventura lost a bit of his command due to the adrenaline coursing through his veins.
However, Albert Pujols thought it would be a good idea to try and steal third. On Salvador Perez. Against Yordano Ventura. Needless to say, it didn't work. However, Matt Joyce followed with a single, and Ventura appeared to tweak his knee on the pitch (later ruled to be a calf cramp), coming out of the game as a precaution.
All told, Ventura went 5.2 innings, yielding four hits and two runs with two walks and seven strikeouts. But I Don't Know What To Do With Those Tossed Salads And Scrambled Eggs came in and struck out David Freese to end the inning.
In the seventh, the Royals responded to the Angels:
Salvador Perez went a-donging, his third of the year. Paulo Orlando then followed with a triple, his second of the game, his third of the season, and all three of his career hits have been triples. Omar Infante followed with a double, and the Royals pushed their lead to 9-2. Frasor gave up a walk to start the home half, but induced a ground ball double play to face the minimum.
Chris Young made his Royals debut in the eighth, recording a strike out and facing the minimum, thanks in part to Mike Moustakas making a dazzling barehanded play on a Johnny Giavotella ground ball. Young finished out the ninth inning
Tomorrow, the Royals participate in their third home opener celebration of the year, as they travel to Minnesota to face the Twins (1-5). Danny Duffy is scheduled to face off against Trevor May.
The Good: Prior to the sixth, Yordano Ventura was trekking through the Angels lineup, yielding one hit and one walk in the first four innings. The offense continued to fire, collecting fourteen hits and nine runs.
The Bad: Eric Hosmer was the only Royal to not make his way onto the hit parade, going 0-for-5 and dropping his season AVG to .259. His timing looks bad. Opponents are pitching him inside, and he has yet to adjust.
The Ugly: Neither team looked particularly good during the sixth inning kerfuffle. The Angels were obviously frustrated by not winning, and the Royals continue to be an emotional team that is still trying to earn the respect they think they deserve.