KANSAS CITY -- Yordano Ventura vowed to stay calm in the hours leading up to his Friday start at Kauffman Stadium, with Game 6 of the American League Championship Series approaching and his Royals one win away from another World Series. He made that promise to himself, expressed its importance to a couple of his teammates and delivered on it early on.
Then, in the fourth inning of Kansas City's eventual 4-3 triumph, the defiance leaked out.
Jose Bautista had already homered, and Troy Tulowitzki was stepping out of the box too frequently for Ventura's liking. With two outs and the count full, Ventura flipped a curveball that froze the Blue Jays shortstop, and the 24-year-old right-hander couldn't contain himself. He pounced in the direction of home plate, balled his right hand into a fist and glared at Tulowitzki, who didn't even bother to look.
"It was a very emotional moment for me," Ventura later said in Spanish. "It was a very important moment for me."
Ventura wound up giving the Royals all they could've hoped for in their eventual pennant clincher, allowing only one run in 5 1/3 innings, departing with the lead and escaping a couple of tough jams.
Ventura's fastball touched 98 mph three times and sat comfortably in the 95- to 97-mph range. His curveball -- the one pitch that can make or break him -- was on point. Ventura's emotions, for the most part, were in check.
"You know, he's got a lot of emotions," Edinson Volquez said, smiling. "He's an emotional guy, and he was able to calm himself down and pitch very good."
When Ben Revere led off the game with a double, Ventura struck out Josh Donaldson, got Bautista to fly out and induced a groundout from Edwin Encarnacion. He set down the next seven batters, made one mistake -- a down-the-middle fastball to Bautista, who crushed it for his first of two homers -- and issued back-to-back walks to start the fifth, with Kansas City still clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Perez and pitching coach Dave Eiland came out for a visit.
"I told him he just needs to concentrate," Perez recalled. "He just has to keep the ball down. That's what he had been doing the whole time."
Ventura refocused and got three of the biggest outs of the game, the last one on a sprawling play by Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who ranged to his left to snare a 114-mph line drive that registered as the hardest ball Donaldson had hit all year, according to Statcast™.
When Ned Yost came to lift Ventura, with one out and a runner in scoring position in the sixth, he had thrown 51 of his 77 pitches for strikes. Ventura wrapped his glove around his face and yelled, then calmly handed the ball to his manager and watched Kelvin Herrera retire the next two batters.
"I didn't need to throw 100 mph today, but I needed to keep them off the board," said Ventura, who entered having allowed nine runs in 12 1/3 postseason innings. "I knew if I did that, we were going to hit and win this game. That's what we did."
Afterward, Rene Francisco, the Royals executive who has known Ventura since his teenage years, smiled at that fourth-inning incident with Tulowitzki. Ventura maintains a perpetual edge that can be his gift and his curse. Sometimes it brings him down -- like when he picked a fight with Mike Trout, or sparked a benches-clearing incident against the White Sox, or beaned Brett Lawrie.
Sometimes, like Friday, it lifts Ventura up.
"He's not trying to show anybody up with that," Francisco said. "That's just his competitiveness. That's what makes him."