Grieving Royals’ Ventura performs beyond his years in Game 6 gem

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly an hour after the game, Jeremy Guthrie was sitting in the Royals’ dugout, talking with a friend, not at all stressing about his upcoming Game 7 start.

I mentioned to Guthrie that I intended to write about the poise of his rookie teammate, right-hander Yordano Ventura. Not just because Ventura had just beaten the Giants 10-0 to win Game 6 of the World Series at age 23. But also because he had done it just two days after losing his friend and fellow Dominican, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, in a car accident.

Guthrie wasn’t buying my narrative.

“Stuff leads to poise,” he said, smiling.

Well, sure, the game is a heck of a lot easier when you can throw 64 pitches at 95 mph or above and four at 100 mph or above in the biggest game of your life, and the biggest for the Royals since their last Series title in 1985.

Still, Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland and bench coach Don Wakamatsu told me beforehand that they had no idea how Ventura would react to the death of his friend.

Not that either was especially worried.

Wakamatsu said he was eager to see Ventura take another major step in his development; Ventura, he explained, had the potential to become a true ace, even the Royals’ version of Felix Hernandez.

No one would compare the two physically — Hernandez is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Ventura 6 foot, 180. No one would really compare their pitching styles, either — Ventura throws harder than Hernandez while King Felix has the best changeup in the game. But Wakamatsu’s comment reflects how highly the Royals think of Ventura. And after Tuesday night, why not?

Ventura, pitching with the inscription “RIP OT #18" on the front of his cap, worked seven shutout innings. True, he benefited from the Royals’ seven-run eruption in the second. But he also escaped unscathed after allowing a one-out double in the second and walking the bases loaded with one out in the third.

His performance enabled the Royals to save their best relievers for Game 7. It also qualified as something of a surprise, considering the way that Ventura warmed up before the first inning, throwing pitches in the dirt and to the backstop.

Incredibly, Ventura said that was all part of his plan.

“I throw a lot of fastballs and they’re looking for fastballs,” Ventura said. “So I just came in and started throwing a bunch of balls everywhere. I was trying to kind of trick them a little bit and make them think that I was kind of rattled or throwing an off‑speed everywhere. But after the first hitter, I settled in.”

Pretty savvy, huh?

“Awesome,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I mean, I don’t really know what more to say. You’ve got a 23‑year‑old kid pitching the biggest game that this stadium has seen in 29 years with our backs against the wall, and he goes out there in complete command of his emotions with great stuff, and throws seven shutout innings.

“You can’t be on a bigger stage than he was on tonight. To perform the way that he did was just special.”

After the final out, Ventura walked onto the field with a Dominican flag draped over his shoulders. He told reporters what he had told his teammates beforehand — that he had dedicated the game to Taveras. But as first baseman Eric Hosmer said, “He pitched for the whole country tonight.”

“I’m very proud to be Dominican, and that’s why I brought my flag out here,” Ventura said. “I carry my emotions on my sleeve, and I did it for the whole country of the Dominican Republic.”

It’s true that Ventura is emotional, but one Royal after another will tell you that he doesn’t act like a rookie. Third baseman Mike Moustakas joked that Ventura pitched as if this was his 10th straight World Series, not his first. Moustakas, who himself is only 26, said, “It’s crazy how young he really is.”

Crazy how he kept it all together.

A few days ago, a veteran Giants player mused that perhaps Ventura would crack in a “a do-or-die situation.” Nice try. The word that Royals people most frequently use to describe Ventura is “fearless.” Fearless and full of moxie and flair.

Before leaving the interview room, Ventura was asked what Taveras would have said about his performance.

“If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me and very proud,” Ventura said. “Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I’m going to miss him a lot.

“I’m grieving, and I want to send my best thoughts to his family.  I know that I’m going to miss him a lot, and this is hard for me.”

He only made it look easy.