Yordano Ventura was virtually unhittable tonight.
That is an entirely true statement.
The Detroit Tigers managed a scant two hits over the course of six innings while facing the Royals' Opening Day starter. Other than a Tyler Collins single and a Jefry Marte double (both coming in the fourth inning), the Tigers were left relying upon the kindness of the Royals defense if they hoped to reach safely by balls put in play while Ventura remained in the game.
One time in the second inning, Ben Zobrist was so kind as to oblige James McCann on a grounder that he fielded on a short hop and bounced off the heel of his glove. It caromed back toward second base instead of being converted into an out.
Other than that error, the Royals defense stymied the Tigers at every turn. Jefry Marte's two-out double in the fourth could well have plated James McCann, who was running on contact. Instead, Dyson fielded the ball at the wall in left-center and rifled a throw to the cut-off man, Alcides Escobar. James McCann being a catcher and Alcides Escobar being Alcides Escobar, most could surmise precisely what happened next.
Escobar delivered a perfect throw to Salvador Perez, beating McCann to the plate by a step.
While that may have been the best defensive play for the Royals this evening, it was not the only one that bailed out Ventura. In the top of the fifth inning, Salvador Perez gunned down Anthony Gose at first base after the Tigers' center fielder reached on a one-out walk. For the last out of the sixth, Alcides Escobar robbed a likely RBI-single from James McCann, diving and tossing to Zobrist at second for the force.
While the Tigers appeared unable to hit Yordano Ventura, they had no problem reaching base against the mercurial flame-thrower. Again, they managed just two hits and reached another time on an error, but they also were recipients of six free passes issued by Ventura--a season high of the undesirable variety.
Two of those nine base-runners were erased by the Royals' defense as the Tigers unsuccessfully played the part of aggressors on the basepaths. Still, Ventura needed to strand seven runners.
The defense helped immensely. Oddly--given his struggles staying in the strike zone--Ventura came to his own rescue on more than one occasion with three of his (tied) season-high eight strikeouts coming after issuing walks.
When Ventura's night was over, he had completed six innings of work, allowing two hits, striking out eight, walking six, but ceding no runs.
The shutout lasted until the first out of the next inning. With Franklin Morales coming in to start the seventh, he instantly put runners on the corners. With two on and no outs, Rajai Davis pinch-hit for Anthony Gose and sent a sacrifice fly to right field.
After Morales issued a one-out walk to Jose Iglesias, Ned Yost trudged back out to the center of the diamond, gesturing with his right hand for Luke Hochevar. Hochevar--whose middle name recently was legally changed from "Oplakia" to "Eraser of Inherited Runners"--took four pitches to eliminate the scoring threat, getting Kinsler to fly out to deep right field and inducing an infield fly ball from Victor Martinez.
All of this talk of what the Royals did on the pitching and defensive side of the game ignores the offense.
As has happened in each of the past three games, the Royals scored multiple runs in the first inning. Tonight, Eric Hosmer got the dong show started, lining one into the bullpen in the opposite field two pitches after Lorenzo Cain managed a two-out single.
The Royals offense remained quiet for the next four innings but added three more runs in the sixth inning. Leading off, Lorenzo Cain DESTROYED a 3-1 slider from Anibal Sanchez, hanging demoralizing, moon-scraping dong to deep left field.
After Kendrys Morales worked a one-out, five-pitch walk, Mike Moustakas walked to the plate. Entering action tonight, Moustakas was ice cold. Yes, he was hitless in his 18 at-bats leading up to this plate appearance, but it gets worse.
In 69 plate appearances heading into tonight, Moustakas had gone 8-for-62 with a double, a home run, ten strikeouts, five walks, a hit-by-pitch, six runs scored, and four driven in, slashing .129/.203/.194 along the way. Facing the suddenly dong-prone Anibal Sanchez, Moustakas sent a fly ball to deep right center, hitting the top of the wall and bouncing over into first row of seats.
With that run, the Royals had built themselves a 5 - 0 lead. Morales gave up the aforementioned run in the top of the next inning, but that was the last run the Tigers got. Hochevar came back out for the top of the eighth inning. This time it took Hochevar 11 pitches to get out of the inning, but a Tiger did not reach base against him as he barely broke a sweat to record these five outs.
Lorenzo Cain tried to stretch a single into a double to lead off the home half of the eighth and was ruled out upon review. As if the gods had ruled Cain's out an undeserved one, the Son of God sent a high fly ball to rookie left fielder Tyler Collins, who watched as the routine catch turned into a shocking two-base error. Pressed after the game, Collins suggested an Angels in the Outfield scenario may have been at play.
With Morales at the plate, Eric Hosmer somewhat gracelessly stole third base. After Tom Gorzelanny struck Morales out, Mike Moustakas pulled a soft liner to right, restoring a five-run lead for the hometown nine, 6 - 1.
Because the save is a stat and it is one about which Ned Yost cares deeply, Luke Hochevar came back out for the ninth. Just 11 pitches later--26 in all--Luke Hochevar got a round of high-fives from his teammates, recording the Quisenberrian eight-out save.
Lorenzo Cain came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with a chance to hit for the cycle, needing just a triple to become the first Royal since George Brett in 1990 to accomplish the feat. As he was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double, Cain finished his night 4-for-4 with two singles, a double, and a home run--one of those singles leading to that out at second.
The win brings the Royals record to a divine 68-44. This means that the Royals are a whopping 24 games over .500 for the first time since they started the 2009 season 18-11.