Yordano Ventura was taken from us much too soon, but in just over three seasons with the Kansas City Royals, he provided us with memories to last a lifetime. Ventura made 102 starts with the Royals, including the post-season. Let’s take a look at the top ten.
In just his seventh Major League start, Yordano Ventura was showing the kind of stuff that would give him the nickname “Ace”. After an hour-long rain delay in Baltimore, Yordano got to work, mowing down Orioles hitters for what was then a career-high eight strikeouts. Ventura would sprinkle seven hits over eight shutout innings in an impressive early-season performance.
“That kid’s special, to say the least...I don’t like to tip my cap, but the guy’s got some good stuff and he went out there and showed it tonight.”
Yordano got his only Opening Day assignment in 2015, and he immediately gave signs it was going to be a special season. He cruised through the first six innings, tossing nothing but zeroes, while the Royals got to Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija. Ventura gave up just four hits and one walk, but after a Jose Abreu home run in the seventh, Ventura suffered a hand cramp and was forced to leave the game. Fortunately, the game turned into a 10-1 rout, and Ventura picked up his first win of the season.
One of Yordano’s last starts ever was his only nine-inning complete game victory, an 8-3 win over Chicago. While it was a late season makeup game with the Royals out of contention, the team still brought some fire, evident when manager Ned Yost was ejected in the fifth inning. Ventura paced himself and walked just one hitter while striking out five. He allowed a pair of solo home runs, but needed just 106 pitches to go the distance.
“At 105 pitches, he’s still throwing 99 mph.”
The Royals needed every last win down the stretch to make the playoffs, and Ventura came up huge. After August 1, he was 6-2 with a 2.61 ERA in ten starts with 57 strikeouts in 62 innings. That includes a performance on September 23 when Ventura mowed down the Indians, giving up just four hits in seven shutout innings in a 7-1 victory. The win kept the Royals tied in the Wild Card race and just one game back of the Tigers for first place.
Ventura’s first start of his first full season in the big leagues gave Royals fans crazy expectations for what was to come. In a game in which he reportedly broke the Major League record with a 103 mph fastball, he retired 17 of the 19 Rays hitters he faced, whiffing six of them. He didn’t walk a single hitter, and matched Chris Archer in putting goose eggs on the board. Ventura was still hitting triple digits in the radar gun in the sixth, with his pitch count in the 90s.
By Game Score, this was Ventura’s best performance. The game was a makeup in Wrigley Field, and Ventura and Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks matched zeroes on the scoreboard for seven innings. Ventura struck out six and allowed just two hits - one of his five career starts with at least six innings pitched and two hits allowed or less. The Royals would eventually lose in the eleventh on a walk-off home run to Chris Coghlan, but Ventura had shown he was ready for post-season play.
Ventura had to wait through an hour-long rain delay, and a rough 27-pitch first inning that saw him walk two hitters. But he eventually struck out the side that inning, part of his 11 strikeouts that afternoon, tying a career high. Ventura gave up just two hits in six shutout innings in the 5-3 win over Baltimore. The best part is you know that had to particularly irritate trollish Orioles fan Jason LaCanfora.
The Royals found themselves just one win away from a second consecutive pennant in Game 6 of the ALCS against Toronto, but they had to get through David Price to do it. When Ben Revere led the game off with a double, it seemed as if Ventura may not be up to the challenge. But he retired the next ten batters he faced, and a solo home run to Jose Bautista in the fourth would be the only run he would allow. He left the game with one out in the sixth, but he had done his job, staking the Royals to a 2-1 lead in a game they would eventually win.
The Royals had snuck into the playoffs and won the most thrilling Wild Card game ever, but the top-seeded Angels still posed a formidable threat in the ALDS. The Royals had stolen Game One in extra innings, with Yordano Ventura on the hill for Game Two. Ventura faced the minimum over the first four frames, and allowed just an RBI single in the fifth to Albert Pujols in seven innings of work. He would exit with five strikeouts, and the Royals would eventually get the offense going in extras with a home run by Eric Hosmer to put the Royals on their way to the ALCS.
The Royals had their backs up against the wall in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, needing a win to stave off elimination. Ventura rose to the occasion, striking out Gregor Blanco to begin the game. He retired six of the first seven hitters of the game, and after the Royals exploded for a seven-run third inning, it seemed a rout might be in play.
Ventura faltered a bit in the bottom of the inning, walking the bases loaded. But he collected himself and worked out of the jam, firing seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits while striking out four in a huge 10-0 Royals victory to force a Game Seven. Ventura was emotional after the game, having lost his friend, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, to a car crash that week.
“You’ve got a 23-year-old pitching in the biggest game this stadium has seen in 29 years, with our backs against the wall, and he goes out there in complete control of his emotions with great stuff and throws seven shutout innings.”