Ventura earns first home win as Royals rally to take I-70 series from Cardinals
Here’s a line that shows you how crazy of a season this is in an already crazy sport:
The Kansas City Royals are all alone in last place in the AL Central. They’re also just four games out of first place.
After Thursday night, I’m not sure if some Royals fans particularly care about their current position in the standings, at least for the time being. That’s judging based on what Kauffman Stadium sounded like as Greg Holland struck out Peter Bourjos to close out the I-70 series clinching win, anyway. The win was also the first Royals victory over the Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium since May 2011, snapping an eight-game losing streak at home to their in-state rivals.
Yordano Ventura, making his first start in 10 days because of elbow discomfort, outdueled opposing starter Michael Wacha. Despite giving up two early runs, the Royals’ flamethrower would settle in to toss six solid innings. After the bullpen would combine for three scoreless frames, Ventura was awarded the first-ever win at Kauffman Stadium in his career.
Fans wondered about Ventura’s velocity, control and durability as he took the hill to face the Cardinals. He quickly squashed any concern when he fired his first six pitches for strikes, and nine of his first 10 deliveries were 96 mph or higher. The Royals’ promising right-hander earned his first win since April 25, improving to 3-5 on the season with a nifty 3.41 ERA. When he and the Royals fell behind St. Louis 2-0 in the fourth inning, though, the familiar questions about lack of offensive production surfaced yet again.
Wacha, last year’s NLCS MVP and touted as one of the best young starters in the game, was splendid for five shutout frames. He worked around a one-out, second-and-third jam in the fifth that left Royals fans grumbling. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, things unraveled for Wacha in the sixth inning.
Alcides Escobar opened the sixth with an off-the-wall double to left. Nori Aoki copied Escobar with a double of his own, driving in the Royals’ first run. Omar Infante then moved Aoki to third base, and Eric Hosmer rolled a single through the hole between first and second to tie the game. After reaching first, the Royals’ Gold Glover pumped his fist and roared to his teammates in the dugout.
Hosmer has been in a funk recently, hitting just .178/.215 with 23 strikeouts to only 18 hits since May 10. Manager Yost has stuck by Hosmer, refusing to give him a day off or move him down from the third spot in the batting order despite his rough stretch. Hopefully for the Royals, Thursday night’s clutch hit is a sign of things to come from Hosmer, who really started to heat up around this time last season.
The Royals weren’t done after Hosmer’s game-tying single, though. After Billy Butler lined out sharply to deep center, Alex Gordon blooped a single into shallow center to move Hosmer into scoring position. Salvador Perez, also mired in a minor funk would then single right back up the middle, scoring Hosmer and giving the Royals their first lead of the game.
From that point, it was the same story that Rex Hudler has been preaching all year: get it to the ‘pen, and win.
Francisely Bueno, pitching for the first time since April 6, worked a perfect seventh inning. In the eighth, Wade Davis copied Bueno with a 1-2-3 inning of his own, though for the first time since Opening Day, he did not record a strikeout. This ended a streak of a whopping 22 straight games with at least one punchout for Davis, who saw his K/9 lower to a pedestrian 14.6.
That gave way to Greg Holland, who worked around a leadoff infield single from Oscar Taveras by striking out the next three hitters. Taveras was originally called out at first base, but after Cardinals manager Mike Matheny cried and stomped like a four-year-old for several minutes, the call was overturned thanks to the rare “Crew Chief” challenge. The Cardinals had already used their team’s challenge earlier in the game when Alex Gordon threw out Yadier Molina attempting to stretch a single into a double in the fifth inning. Matheny challenged the call, and it was upheld.
Holland, a 2013 All Star, earned his A.L. best 17th save in 18 chances. His ERA on the season lowered to 1.52, his K/BB ratio is a stunning 37:6, and his K/9 rose to 14.4. In his last six outings, each spanning one complete inning, Holland has allowed just two baserunners and struck out 12. At this point, it would take an injury to keep him from being voted into the summer classic for the second consecutive season.
Prior to first pitch, I deemed this contest as the most important game the Royals have played yet this year. This would be the fifth four-game series of the season for Kansas City, and they were yet to walk away with a series victory in any of them. It felt particularly exasperating to jump out to a 2-0 lead on Toronto just last week, only to crumble in the last two games and finish with an even split. The Royals had worked too hard thus far in the I-70 series to settle for a split. After the win, Kansas City climbed to 29-31, while St. Louis fell to 31-30. The Royals also won the season I-70 series for the first time since 2010.
Up next for the Royals: the New York Derek Jeters come to town for another four-game series. For the series opener on Friday night, Jeremy Guthrie (2-5, 4.00 ERA) takes the ball for Kansas City, while Chase Whitley (0-0, 2.37) will start for the Yankees. Fortunately for the Royals, they will miss Yankees rookie phenom Masahiro Tanaka, who is among the A.L. in wins (9), ERA (2.02), opponents batting average (.218) and WHIP (0.96)
The Royals just came up big against the team with the worst fans in all of sports. With another 3-1 result in this next series against the Yankees, the fan excitement will once again skyrocket in Kansas City. Only the Royals can get swept at home by Houston and then go 5-3 against Toronto and St. Louis.
I feel like I could end every column I write with “only the Royals.” This is no exception, simply because the Royals figure out ways to do things that seem simply ridiculous and ludicrous on a weekly basis.
Only the Royals.