CHICAGO -- The media could hear the enthusiastic cheers from inside the Kansas City Royals' locker room through an inch-thick door and from 50 feet away. The Royals hadn't just beaten the Chicago White Sox 3-2 in 13 innings after the game was interrupted by their huge, seventh-inning rumble. They didn't just win, they'd enjoyed it -- not as sedate professionals going about their business in April, but as reigning champs in the American League.
Once that dust settles, however, there's a basic problem that's going to be critical for K.C. if they're going to defend their pennant: Can they really afford trouble every time their No. 1 starter, Yordano Ventura, takes the mound? Following incidents mixing it up with Mike Trout and Brett Lawrie in his past two turns, the full-on, two-team fracas that burst out on-field after his shouting match with Adam Eaton to end the seventh inning Thursday was just the latest bit of mayhem in a suddenly expanding list of confrontations.
"It was a messy situation. I got the ground ball and was unable to control my emotions in that play, and it turned out ugly," Ventura acknowledged through an interpreter after the game. "I'm 23 years old, I made a mistake in being emotional. But when someone attacks me, I respond and stand up for myself."
Ventura was given a five-year, $23 million contract extension just three weeks ago. It was a move reflecting the Royals' commitment to going where their young talents take them in the years to come, instead of investing heavily in big-ticket free agents. Ventura is supposed to be the guy who fills James Shields' shoes as the front man. At 23 years old, capable of throwing with triple-digit velocity, you want to believe those five years are going to witness his growth into becoming one of the top hurlers in the game. It's an investment that makes plenty of sense on the bottom line.
The pity is that this was one of the best games Ventura has pitched in his brief career. In 38 major league starts, this was just the fourth time the flame-throwing righty had whiffed eight or more batters. By Game Score, with a 66, it rated as the seventh-best turn of his career. Nobody's going to remember it for any of that, though, because Ventura might now be remembered for the on-field violence that has punctuated his pitching performances.
"He looked great; until Eaton hit the ground ball, he did a magnificent job of maintaining his composure, staying within himself, executing his pitches," Royals manager Ned Yost observed. "I was really pleased with him up until all that stuff happened."
"The last three outings, my emotions have spilled over and gotten the better of me," Ventura said. "I'm an emotional pitcher, but I need to work on controlling them. I want to do that, I certainly want to avoid the results, games ending the way [the past three] have. I want to use the emotions to pitch well, but not go over the top and have these kinds of incidents."
But Ventura is also picking up a reputation for losing his cool on the field, and now perhaps, unavoidably, it's on his mind.
"Yeah, I've thought about that, and some of my actions are certainly putting me in a less-than-favorable light, as well as the team," Ventura said. "That's important to me, and I need to work on it and be better."
"I've tried to explain to him teams are going to try to take him out of his game," Yost said. "That's what they're going to do -- they're going to scream at him, they're going to yell at him. His stuff's good, people are going to want him out of the lineup. He's got to understand that he's a really good pitcher, and teams are going to try to take him out of his game."
"He's the No. 1 starter, I think he thinks he has big shoes to fill," Yost said. "But it's his arm that does the talking."
For the Royals' sake, here's hoping that becomes the case in all of his turns and not just the ones in which he avoids an incident while the game is in doubt. Because if he does, they're going to have more than enough reason to cheer, and perhaps even relish their role as baseball's new heavies.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.