By Eric Nunez
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK _ Yordano Ventura is the flamethrower who stares down hitters. Johnny Cueto has flowing dreadlocks and nicknamed his motion “The Rocking Chair.” Edinson Volquez is the always ebullient guy who pitched just hours after his dad died.
And together, the Kansas City trio is about to put the world in the World Series.
When Ventura takes the mound at Citi Field on Friday night to face the New York Mets, the Royals will become the first team in Series history to start three pitchers born outside the United States.
Each from the Dominican Republic, too.
“The fact that we are all in this together is priceless,” Ventura said. “This is so exciting. You feel proud that this is something historic, but at the same time you’re aware this is also unique. Nobody knows if three Dominican pitchers will be ever starting again for the same team in World Series.”
Before this year, six Series teams had started two pitchers from beyond the U.S., STATS said. Those pitchers came from Cuba, Canada, Venezuela and the Netherlands, among other countries.
Ventura starts with Kansas City holding a 2-0 lead.
Ever since the Royals got Cueto from Cincinnati in a trade in late July, it seems the KC clubhouse has come to resemble a Dominican neighbourhood.
“Take a look, we all lined up together here. This is the Dominican corner,” said Kelvin Herrera, another Dominican and a key member of the bullpen. “We have families, but during the season we spent more thing together bonding in the field. I think that makes us a family.”
That family of right-handers came together in the past year.
Ventura is the one with more tenure with the Royals, a winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. He had the highest velocity this year among starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title at 96.79 mph.
After the off-season departure of their ace James Shields in free agency, the Royals signed Volquez to a two-year, $20 million contract. He led the team in wins (13) and ERA (3.55) during the regular season.
The 32-year-old allowed three runs over six innings against the New York Mets in Game 1 on Tuesday. His father, 63-year-old Daniel Volquez, died of heart failure just before he started. The Royals won 5-4 in 14 innings.
Cueto, a soon-to-be-free agent, was acquired at the trade deadline from the Reds. He delivered on Wednesday night, completing a two-hitter in a 7-1 victory. He was a teammate with Volquez, both starting for the Reds in the 2010 NL Division Series against Philadelphia.
“At first it was a little strange because I didn’t know most of the guys, but I became comfortable quickly,” Cueto said. “We’re three Dominicans, tremendous pitchers. We got along as brothers, there’s no envy among us. Everybody is trying to help each other.”
No telling if any of Cueto’s fellow pitchers will benefit from copying his slowed-down, wiggling windup. He calls it “La Mecedora” _ the Rocking Chair.
“I read swings, I read rhythms. And I come up with these different type of windups because of the rhythm that I feel is going to be effective on that particular pitch,” Cueto said.
Ventura was suspended seven games after his role in a brawl with the Chicago White Sox on April 23. He also got riled up in other incidents with Mike Trout the Los Angeles Angels and Brett Lawrie of the Oakland Athletics.
The youngest at 24, Ventura praises Cueto and Volquez as good mentors for him, on and off the field.
“The influence that those two guys have brought up on me is great,” Ventura said through a translator Thursday at Citi Field. “I feel like we’re brothers. I’ve learned a lot from seeing them go out there and pitch and how to react to things, certain situations in the game.”
“So I’ve learned a lot from them. I just like the encouragement that they bring every single day, the positive energy that they’ve got. I’m just excited to be a part of that,” he said.
Jeremy Guthrie, who started Game 7 of the World Series last year and also served as a translator for Ventura during the playoffs, is impressed with the camaraderie of the Dominicans pitchers and the other Latin American players on the Royals.
“They really had developed a closeness, beyond what I’ve seen in other teams. They thrive all with each other,” Guthrie said. “Always together, always talking, joking. It’s like you grab 10 friends from childhood and you throw them in one team, and they come from different countries.”