Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For Club and Country: Yordano Ventura, Another Blowout, and Setting the Stage for the Grand Finale

As the twenty-three year old Yordano Ventura took the mound for the second time in the series, he was out to prove something more than just his talent. On his cap, to the side of the interlocking 'K' and 'C,' was the following etched in three lines on the field of royal blue: R.I.P. O.T #18. A solemn tribute to his fellow countryman, Oscar Taveras, who passed away Sunday following a car accident. Ventura, a bright young star in his own right, had been at the helm for a little over five innings of Kansas City's game two victory. His performance was stellar, only giving up two runs in a game the Royals needed to win to avoid falling down 2-0 in the series. Tuesday night, his team needed a win to extend the season. With emotions surely high, Ventura stepped onto the mound, into the spotlight, and seized the opportunity to force a game seven.

His first pitch was almost as good as his hundredth. Over the course of seven innings, the young Royals' righty held the San Francisco offense to only three hits. Only once would a Giants player touch third base. That came in the third inning. Shortly thereafter, Buster Posey grounded into an inning-ending double play. The Giants didn't need game six. They wanted it, but there was always Wednesday night. Of their three trips to the World Series, the Royals have been by far the Giants' toughest test. For the Royals, game six was the first time their proverbial backs were against the wall since the last day of September. By the end of the second inning, they could rest easy, and Kauffman Stadium was awash with the excitement that had boiled over throughout October.

San Francisco sent Jake Peavy to the hill again. Bless his heart, he tried. After game five, there was a feeling that the Royals might respond to having been shut out for fifteen straight innings with an outpouring of offense. That line of thought proved to be true. The inning played out as follows:

Alex Gordon singled.
Salvador Perez singled.
Mike Moustakas doubled.
Omar Infante struck out.
Alcides Escobar singled.
Nori Aoki singled.
Jake Peavy replaced by Yusmeiro Petit.
Lorenzo Cain singled.
Eric Hosmer doubled.
Billy Butler doubled.
Alex Gordon grounded out.
Salvador Perez popped out.

Seven runs crossed the plate on eight hits. Peavy was charged with five of the runs. Yordano Ventura was given all the run support he would need. Still, even up 7-0, the Royals were not though in their blatant intimidation of the National League champions. The game was well in hand. Kansas City added three more runs, one each in the third, fifth and seventh innings. There was hardly a shred of mercy in the home dugout and the capacity crowd was loving every moment.

Yordano Ventura was unrelenting in his own way. His four-seam fastball was hovering in the mid-nineties all night. The two-seamer was approaching one-hundred miles per hour nearly every pitch. Four times Ventura's pitch speed reached triple digits, the last two such throws coming in the seventh inning. He was dominant in a way separate from how Madison Bumgarner had been the game before, but his performance was still worthy of jaw-dropping stares. Of all the young Royals stars introduced to the world this postseason, Ventura may be the brightest and the scariest. He showed unmatched resolve with every throw. He was not out there just to win the game, but to do his part to return the blowout favor the Giants had imparted on Sunday.

Ventura's first pitch was a ninety-seven miles per hour fastball, called for ball one. A few hours later, as his pitch count neared one hundred, it looked like there would be a fight to remove him from the game. On his one hundredth pitch, a ninety-eight miles per hour fastball, Gregor Blanco popped out to Mike Moustakas at third. Ventura's game was over. This time he would get credit for the win.

Five of the six World Series games have been won by five or more runs. The only exception came in game three. Now the entire season comes down to one game. A series uniting two Cinderella stories, full of lopsided victories and unpredictable swings of momentum, will end Wednesday night. The 2014 Kansas City Royals are not the 2007 Colorado Rockies. They were not merely a feel-good story easily tossed aside by a far superior team. They have established themselves as a real, quality baseball team. The San Francisco Giants' legacy rides on game seven. Will their incredible resurgence back to baseball's pinnacle end with the crowning of a dynasty, or will 2014 be the year they finally fall in the World Series? By all accounts, there is no way of predicting what will happen tonight. The only thing that is certain is that Kauffman Stadium will be loud, blue and ready.

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