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KANSAS CITY – The spotlight will be brighter Wednesday night than anything Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura has imagined.
But the 23-year-old rookie has been receiving words of wisdom from a fellow Dominican Republic native – three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez.
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“I speak with him more or less every other day at this point,” said Ventura, who takes the ball in Game 2 of the World Series against the Giants. “Pedro always encourages me to be myself, and to treat every game just like I always have.”
That will be easier said than done before a jacked-up crowd at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesay night. But how Ventura acquits himself to the pressure is part of a bigger storyline for the American League champs.
Outside of ace and Game 1 starter James Shields, none of the Royals’ three other starters in their World Series rotation had even appeared in a postseason game before this fall. So watch how Kansas City’s starters respond on baseball’s biggest stage.
Manager Ned Yost announced Tuesday that former Stanford star Jeremy Guthrie will pitch Game 3 Friday at AT&T Park, followed by left-hander Jason Vargas in Game 4 on Saturday.
Ventura, who went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in the regular season, had a unique playoff debut. In a crazy A.L. wild-card victory over the A’s, Ventura relieved Shields in the top of the sixth and Kansas City leading 3-2. The Kauffman Stadium crowd booed passionately at Yost pulling Shields so early, and Ventura threw gasoline on the fire by serving up a three-run go-ahead home run to Brandon Moss.
But Ventura rebounded and impressed in a Division Series victory over the Angels, throwing seven innings of one-run ball. He was decent in the A.L. Championship Series against Baltimore, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing four runs. On Wednesday, he’ll start the biggest game of his life.
Yet Ventura feels the road that eventually led him to the major leagues has prepared him. He recalls taking the mound in organized games in the Dominican at age 15 and facing hitters who were twice his age.
“I would pitch against them, I would throw inside and I developed that confidence to get them out,” he said through Guthrie, his interpreter. “I developed that confidence to get them out, and I had to fight to be able to do that and never back down. It’s carried on for me.”
Ventura remembers as a kid watching Martinez help the Red Sox capture the 2004 World Series, but he didn’t have much exposure to the Series in general.
“Where I came from and where I grew up, I didn’t get many opportunities to watch it,” he said. “But certainly the one I remember is 2004, the Red Sox with Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez helping them win.”
Guthrie, who held Baltimore to one run over five innings in Game 3 of the A.L.C.S., has been impressed by the poise the flame-throwing Ventura shows.
“When you watch him, you realize its’ not just 100 miles per hour that gets people out,” Guthrie said. “He has a very, very sharp curve ball and one that anybody would hope to have in their repertoire. He has an excellent changeup that he still doesn’t even use as much as many other guys.”