Rookie pitcher Yordano Ventura wasn't guaranteed a roster spot on the Royals heading into spring training. A strong showing in the pre-season forced the Royals' hand and earned him a spot in the rotation, though, and all he did with the opportunity was throw 183 innings, make 30 starts, and finish second among Royals starters in ERA+ at 125. That figure, by the way, outpaced the rest of the qualifying rookie class by a few miles. The Royals won a wild card over the Mariners by just two games, and it's safe to say they wouldn't have had the chance to do so if not for the pitching of Ventura.
This same Ventura took the mound in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, with the Royals staring at elimination in front of their home crowd. Ventura ended up throwing seven shutout innings in the most important game the Royals have played in 2014, the most important since their last World Series Game 6 that took place 29 years ago. Ventura was six years away from being born at that time, but you wouldn't have known that by watching him on Tuesday as he pitched with the panache of a swashbuckler who had picked up his fallen father's sword.
Yes, he walked five batters, but Ventura was what you could call effectively wild. His stuff was electric, and the Giants couldn't do anything with it. They didn't score a single run off of him, and it wasn't all due to luck: they collected just three hits over those seven innings, and the Royals' circus catches -- acrobatics that have saved their pitching time and again this postseason -- weren't the cause. Ventura simply pitched a beautiful game. Sure, it had a couple walks too many for aesthetic purposes, but the free passes came to nothing. He got the job done, just as he has done since his first start of 2014.
The Giants did not want to be in Game 7. They could have wrapped up the series behind Jake Peavy on Tuesday, but instead, as has happened a little too often for Peavy, things came unraveled in a key game. It's the only stain that won't come out of an otherwise wonderful and underrated career, and that's a shame for both Peavy and his Giants. Like Ventura with the Royals, the Giants are here to begin with thanks to Peavy, who was their top pitcher in the months after he was acquired from the sinking Red Sox, courtesy a 2.17 ERA over 13 starts and 78 frames. It's been a different story for these two pitchers in the postseason, however, as Ventura has a 2.52 ERA in his four starts, while any progress made on Peavy's postseason reputation was destroyed with the five runs he allowed over 1-1/3 innings in Game 6.
Photo credit: Ezra Shaw
In Game 7, the Giants will turn to another veteran in Tim Hudson. Hudson will be making his second-ever World Series start, with the first coming in Game 3, a match-up the Royals took for their second win of the series. The chance to be the hero, to star in a role his previous playoff teams never even came close to offering him, makes for an easy story for Hudson. He might not get long to work with it, though, even after waiting 16 years in the majors for the opportunity, because Madison Bumgarner and his ever-growing legend are waiting in the wings. Bumgarner has made it clear he's ready to go the moment manager Bruce Bochy needs him, and while it's tough to guarantee what any pitcher is going to do on a given day (never mind on short rest), at this point Bumgarner has pitched everyone into believing he's unstoppable. He's allowed one solitary run over four career World Series starts, threw a gem to win this year's Wild Card round against the Pirates, and was the clinching pitcher in both the NLDS and NLCS rounds. He's thrown 47-2/3 innings this postseason while allowing just six runs to score -- that's a 1.13 ERA -- and allowed opponents a .156/.194/.228 line. Bumgarner has effectively turned every hitter he's faced this October into Jose Molina.
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The Royals have managed just seven hits off of Bumgarner in 16 innings, and while they're responsible for the only run he has ever allowed in the Fall Classic, it's still just one run. The Royals basically have to hope he's out of gas at this point, having thrown a combined 39 starts and 265 innings, or that they can get to Hudson hard enough and early enough that Bumgarner is in to stop the bleeding, not shut the door on Kansas City and their season.
The Royals obviously have a chance to win. It's only one game, even if it ends up being heavily against their current mound nemesis, and the Royals have taken apart good pitchers before even though their lineup is their weak link. Jeremy Guthrie isn't an ace, but he's capable of giving Kansas City the quality innings they need in order to hand things over to the now-rested Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland bullpen trio. Bumgarner might pitch like a god in October, but the dude is still mortal and prone to the same bad days and mistakes as anyone else who takes the mound at any time. Game 7 is there for the taking for either team, and regardless of whether it's Hudson or Bumgarner or Guthrie or Kansas City's bullpen that carries the day, we'll know who 2014's champion is soon.