Those three words became Yordano Ventura’s calling card during a career and life that was far too short, yet long on promise. I still can’t believe he’s dead at 25 years old, a shooting star who often burned so brightly but was gone in the blink of an eye.
As I woke Sunday morning and grabbed my phone, I couldn’t believe what I was reading: “Reports: Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura dead at age 25.” Perhaps I didn’t believe it at first. Maybe I was in shock.
When it became apparent that it wasn’t just a rumor, I didn’t throw fire. I threw water, as in a stream of tears, sobbing for a good 15 minutes. Yordano Ventura, the sometimes-frustrating, always-entertaining, firestorm of a pitcher is gone.
The lasting memory of Ventura will be the dominating performance in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. With the season on the line, the 23-year-old throttled San Francisco to force a Game 7. He threw seven shutout innings, capping a World Series in which he pitched 12 1/3 innings, allowed two runs and had a 1.46 ERA. Without the heroics of Madison Bumgarner, he likely would have been the MVP as a rookie.
After an impressive rookie season (14-10, 3.20 ERA), the expectations exploded. Ventura didn’t handle it well the next two seasons, often struggling. He was about to be demoted in 2015 before Jason Vargas’ injury forced the Royals to bring him back before he reached Omaha.
He also started slowly last season before heating up during the summer months.
But the promise was always there. As a Royals fan, you didn’t miss a Ventura start. There always was a chance he’d dazzle, torching hitters with a triple-digit fastball and embarrassing them with a knee-buckling curve.
One of the last starts of his life was one of the most electrifying. On a hot day in late September, “Ace” mowed down the White Sox in the only nine-inning complete game of his career. Ventura often couldn’t find the strike zone, but on this day, he threw 72 strikes in 106 pitches. It was the kind of performance we hoped he’d deliver consistently.
Ventura also will be remembered for being temperamental. He wasn’t liked across baseball, drawing the ire of opponents after plunking them with 95-mph heaters, staring down hitters and igniting a couple of brawls.
As frustrating as he was, however, he was one of us, Forever Royal.
I’ll remember the exaggerated leg kick after blowing away a hitter. I’ll remember him staring down Troy Tulowitzki after freezing him with a filthy curve in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS. I’ll remember that he spent the day after the heartbreak of losing Game 7 of the 2014 World Series playing softball with children. I’ll remember that electric smile.
Above all, I’ll remember “Let’s throw fire.”