Kansas City, Mo. The electrifying performance that Yordano Ventura delivered in his big league debut Tuesday night normally would be enough to help Royals fans feel better after a late-game collapse.
Then again, the Royals aren’t accustomed to playing games that mean something in September.
So even though Ventura kept the Cleveland Indians off the scoreboard until the sixth inning and departed with the lead, the inability of the Kansas City bullpen to hold on in a 5-3 defeat is what will stand out as the season heads toward its conclusion.
The Royals dropped 3½ games back of Texas and Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card race. The Indians remain a half-game adrift after the Rangers beat the Rays earlier in the night.
“You look at that game and their bullpen pitched better than our bullpen tonight,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We felt like we had the right matchups and didn’t get it done.”
The Indians finally got a run off Ventura in the sixth, and then tied the game 3-all off reliever Kelvin Herrera in the seventh. Asdrubal Cabrera’s go-ahead double off Wade Davis (7-11) gave Cleveland the lead, and Michael Bourn’s homer in the ninth helped to seal it.
Cody Allen (6-1) was among six Indians relievers who kept Kansas City off the scoreboard the final 4 1-3 innings, and Chris Perez handled a perfect ninth for his 25th save.
“It happens sometimes,” Royals catcher Salvador Perez said of the collapse. “We have to keep going, keep playing hard through the last day of the season.”
Ventura had already been saddled with the nickname “Ace” before Monday night, but in the first inning he looked more like a different film character: Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
He erratically walked Bourn on four pitches to lead off the game, and earned a roar when he finally threw a strike to Nick Swisher. The roar grew when Ventura got him to ground into a double play, and reached a crescendo when he struck out Jason Kipnis to end the inning.
“Everyone knows I was nervous” Ventura said. “That’s why I couldn’t throw one strike. But thank God, I was able to make adjustments and get next guy out.”
The 22-year-old flame-thrower settled in, mixing his curveball and changeup with straight gas that touched 101 mph on the radar gun at Kauffman Stadium.
“I mean, when their kid was running it up there a hundred, and he started flipping that breaking ball over for strike one, they were in command,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
The Royals gave Ventura a lead on Eric Hosmer’s double in the first inning. They added two in the third, thanks in part to Emilio Bonifacio getting into the head of starter Corey Kluber.
After a single, Bonifacio swiped second even as Kluber tried to pick him off. Bonifacio kept dancing around second base, and the Indians right-hander proceeded to walk Hosmer and Billy Butler to load up the bases. Perez’s sacrifice fly and Mike Moustakas’s double made it 3-0.
The Indians finally started to rally in the sixth. Swisher’s single and a pair of two-out singles by Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley made it 3-1 and drove Ventura from the game — he received a standing ovation. Cabrera walked to load the bases before Ryan Raburn struck out.
It may have been a wasted opportunity, but Cleveland atoned for it the next inning.
Yan Gomes was plunked in the back by Herrera, and then Bourn ripped an RBI triple into the gap. Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to left field that knotted the game 3-all.
“The hit batsman was crucial at that point with Bourn coming up and hitting a triple right behind it,” Yost said. “Those are things late in the season in games of this magnitude you really want to try to stay away from.”
The things that allowed Cabrera to finish off the comeback.
“It’s not always going to be pretty but we have to find a way to get it done,” Swisher said. “We have a scrappy group in here, and we’re not done. We’re going to keep pushing because we want this. We want it bad.”
Notes: The Royals made roster space for Ventura by placing 1B Carlos Pena (appendectomy) on the 60-day DL. ... Indians RHP Justin Masterson (left oblique) hopes to throw a bullpen session Friday. ... Royals affiliate Omaha beat Rays affiliate Durham 2-1 to win the Triple-A title. ... Royals LHP Bruce Chen and Indians RHP Danny Salazar meet in the series finale Wednesday.