Emotional Ventura all business for Game 3
Young right-hander has matured, grown in second full season
NEW YORK -- Yordano Ventura and his perpetual edge will take the mound here, from Citi Field, on Friday night for Game 3 (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time). Behind him will be a Royals team that can take a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven World Series. On top of him will be a sold-out, pro-Mets crowd relentless in its hopes to unnerve the Royals' enigmatic starting pitcher.
These were the moments when Kansas City would worry most about Ventura, the 24-year-old flamethrower who has famously struggled to keep his emotions in check.
His teammates will tell you it's different now.
"I feel like over the course of the year, he matured a lot," Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said of Ventura. "He definitely had a rocky start early on, but he's matured. He's ready to go. He's going to lock in, he's going to focus, he's going to block the crowd out."
That, at least, is Kansas City's hope. On the other side for Game 3 of this Fall Classic will be fellow hard-throwing right-hander Noah Syndergaard. It'll mark Ventura's ninth career postseason start, just one fewer than Steve Avery for the most for a pitcher before his 25th birthday.
"I pretty much know how this goes already, the pressure," Ventura said in Spanish. "People say that in these playoff games there's pressure, but we're just doing our jobs, trying to win."
Ventura's last World Series start came in Game 6 last year, a scoreless effort through seven innings that pushed his team to the winner-take-all Game 7 that was won by the Giants.
The results haven't been quite as sparkling this October, though. He's posted a 5.09 ERA and has allowed opposing hitters to slash a troubling .278/.358/.500. But Royals manager Ned Yost called that "deceiving." Kansas City has won seven of Ventura's eight postseason starts. And the last time he pitched, Ventura held a menacing Blue Jays lineup to just one run in 5 1/3 innings during Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
"I think he's pitched great," Yost said. "I've got no problem or issues. I'm not a big numbers guy. I'm not looking at his postseason numbers -- I'm looking at what I see on the field, and he's kept us in ballgames. I think he's doing great."
Ventura parlayed an eye-opening rookie season into a five-year, $23 million contract and an Opening Day start in 2015 -- then had to do a little growing up.
He got into it with Angels center fielder Mike Trout, sparked a benches-clearing incident against the White Sox, beaned Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie, served a seven-game suspension, and then, by July 21, Ventura had been optioned to Triple-A, his ERA at 5.19 and his emotions out of whack.
"We all talked to him early in the season," Cain said, "to kind of tone it down a little bit."
Ventura returned to the roster a day later -- a result of Jason Vargas suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament -- then turned it on shortly thereafter, posting a 2.38 ERA over his last 11 regular-season starts.
Ventura said he simply kept pushing, confident that at some point his 98-mph fastball and wipeout curveball would skew the results in another direction. But he also learned to dial it down. When opposing hitters barked, looking to throw him off, he finally began to ignore it.
"That helped me a lot in the second half," Ventura said. "That's what I kept doing."
But he'll still have his moments, like in ALCS Game 6, when he stared down Troy Tulowitzki after a big strikeout to end the fourth inning, upset that the Blue Jays' shortstop repeatedly called timeout.
"That's just me," Ventura said. "I can't change that."
His teammates don't necessarily want him to.
"It's who he is," Cain added. "He's a very emotional guy; he wants to go out there and win. Sometimes it just carries over like that. But he's a great teammate, great guy on this team. We're definitely going to need him."