KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals manager Ned Yost admitted that he often manages an entire game around getting the ball to reliever Wade Davis in the eighth inning and closer Greg Holland in the ninth.
The fact that Yordano Ventura gave him six solid innings made things even easier.
Ventura returned from a sore elbow to keep the St. Louis Cardinals off balance, and Kansas City rallied for three runs in the sixth inning before the bullpen closed out a 3-2 win Thursday night that ended a string of eight straight home losses to its cross-state rivals.
“The bullpen was fantastic tonight,” Yost said.
Of course, so was Ventura.
The hard-throwing right-hander was skipped his previous time through the rotation because of the ailment, but looked sharp in his return.
Ventura (3-5) pitched to contact and took advantage of some sharp defense, which helped him to limit the damage whenever he ran into trouble.
“Everything was good,” Ventura said through a translator. “I wasn’t nervous. I was very anxious. I wanted to pitch well to help the team win.”
He wasn’t in line for the win until the Royals rallied for three runs off Michael Wacha (4-4) in the sixth inning, and Francisley Bueno and Davis each pitched a perfect inning in relief.
Holland made things interesting in the ninth.
Oscar Taveras led off with a grounder toward second base that Omar Infante fielded deep in the hole and threw awkwardly to first base. Umpire Dan Iassogna initially ruled the throw beat Taveras to the bag, but a video review showed that he was clearly safe.
Holland proceeded to strike out Jhonny Peralta, but a wild pitch sent pinch runner Randal Grichuk to second base. Holland then struck out Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos to end the game.
The Royals took the first two games of the four-game, two-city series at Busch Stadium, and then lost 5-2 in 11 innings on Wednesday night before taking the series finale.
Kansas City improved to 6-2 against National League clubs this season, while its slumping cross-state rivals lost for the seventh time in their past eight games.
The game was expected to be a showdown between two of the game’s bright young pitchers in Ventura, with his 100 mph fastball, and Wacha, who emerged for St. Louis last season.
Neither of them disappointed.
Ventura left two runners aboard in the first inning and a runner on third base in each of the next three innings. Alex Gordon then helped him out of the fifth, when he threw out Yadier Molina trying to stretch a single into a double with a strong throw from left field.
The call was confirmed after a review that lasted 3 minutes, 30 seconds.
Wacha only allowed two hits through the first five innings before Alcides Escobar started the Royals’ rally with a double in the sixth. Nori Aoki followed with an RBI double and Eric Hosmer guided a single through a drawn-in infield to knot the game 2-all.
Salvador Perez, who had been in a 2-for-24 slump at home, followed with a go-ahead single.
“Wacha was real good up the point of the sixth inning and that’s consecutive starts where we’ve had starters come out and be real good and just hit a wall,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We just weren’t able to get enough offense back after that.”
The fact that Aoki had a part in the Royals’ sixth-inning rally was perhaps fitting.
The outfielder was leading off in the first inning when he took a pitch low and inside. He was still leaning slightly over the plate when Molina tried to return the ball to Wacha, and the throw instead ricocheted hard off Aoki’s helmet and toward the third-base dugout.
Aoki crumpled into a heap and lay in the dirt for several minutes before resuming his at-bat. He later grounded out, but hurt the Cardinals with his double during the Royals’ decisive rally.
“Yadi was real apologetic,” Yost said. “Nori was just like, ‘OK, OK.’”