KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Yordano Ventura honored his close friend Oscar Tavares the best way he could.
With the initials of the late Cardinals outfielder scrawled on his hat, the Kansas City Royals’ rookie flamethrower mowed down the hot-hitting Giants on Tuesday night. Ventura allowed three hits over seven innings in a 10-0 rout of San Francisco that forced a deciding Game 7.
“If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me and very proud,” said Ventura, who also inscribed “RIP” and Taveras’ minor league jersey number on his cap.
“Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I’m going to miss him a lot.”
Taveras, who Ventura got to know about three years ago in the minors, was killed Sunday in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. The cause is still under investigation.
“I’m grieving,” Ventura said through a translator, “and I want to send my best thoughts to his family. I know that I’m going to miss him a lot, and this is hard for me.”
Harder than blowing through the Giants’ batting order.
Perhaps just as important as his own pitching line, Ventura helped the Royals save their brilliant bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland for Wednesday night’s finale.
“I mean, you’ve got a 23-year-old kid pitching the biggest game this stadium has seen in 29 years with our backs against the wall, and he goes out there in complete command of his emotions,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “To perform the way he did was just special.”
Relying on his blazing fastball that touched 100 mph, Ventura breezed through the first inning on 13 pitches. He gave up a double to Hunter Pence in the second, but quickly got two more outs to end the inning, keeping the game scoreless.
Kansas City gave him all the support he needed with seven runs in the bottom half.
The Royals sent 11 batters to the plate in the frame, piling up eight this and chasing Giants starter Jake Peavy after 1 1/3 innings. San Francisco reliever Yusmeiro Petit didn’t fare a whole lot better, and by the time Ventura trotted back to the mound, the game was well in hand.
“He’s not typical the way he composes himself out there,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “He’s fearless when he’s on the mound, especially in the postseason.”
Ventura’s command escaped him briefly in the third, when he walked the bases loaded. But he promptly got Buster Posey to ground into an inning-ending double play, and then pointed at the sky — perhaps thinking of Taveras — before walking off the mound to a standing ovation.
Ventura and Taveras became friends while rocketing through the minor leagues together. They shared a common bond in their Dominican roots, and both were playing far from home — Ventura for Class-A Kane County and Taveras for Midwest League rival Quad Cities.
They would often visit each other, their clubs close enough that they could make the drive easily. When they were promoted, they kept in contact by phone. Then in June, they got to see each other again when the Cardinals and Royals played a two-city interleague series.
Taveras had returned to the Dominican Republic after the Cardinals were eliminated by the Giants in the NL Championship Series. The promising young outfielder was driving on a highway in the tourist region of Puerto Plata when the fatal crash happened.
His 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, was riding in the car and also was killed.
“When we would play against each other, we’d go over to each other’s houses and hang out during the minor league season,” Ventura said Monday afternoon. “I consider myself a friend of his, and my thoughts are with the family and of all of those who know him.”
Taveras was laid to rest earlier Tuesday, and there was a moment of silence in his honor before the start of Game 6. A smiling picture of him was shown on the scoreboard in center field.
Then, Ventura went to work honoring him in his own way.