Keep Your KC Royals Ticket Stub: Seeing double aces

Remember when Yordano Ventura dueled Johnny Cueto?
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Patrick Glancy's continuing "Keep Your KC Royals Ticket Stub" series in which he revisits important games in KC Royals history. Featured today is a 2015 matchup of excellent pitchers who became teammates later in the season.

This edition of "Keep Your KC Royals Ticket Stub" calls back to the 2015 championship season, but it's not one of the obvious choices. This story's game took place early in the regular season, so for obvious reasons it isn't as well-known as the comeback against Houston in the American League Division Series, or Alex Gordon's ninth inning Game 1 homer in the World Series. But it's notable because it featured two pitchers who battled each other during the season but ended up celebrating with each other in October.

It's also uniquely memorable for me — it was the first game I ever attended with my two oldest sons.

The battle: Yordano Ventura vs. Johnny Cueto

The Cincinnati Reds came to town May 19, 2015, for an interleague matchup with defending American League champion Kansas City and and sent ace Johnny Cueto to the mound with a 3-3 record. The Royals countered with young hotshot Yordano Ventura, who they hoped would become their new ace, especially after they let James Shields walk in free agency during the offseason.

Things weren't going exactly as planned, however; despite a strong rookie season and an electric performance in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura was scufffling, having lost three straight decisions en route to a 2-3 record.

Fortunately, the game with the Reds served as a turning point for him. For the record, the Royals won 3-0, but the real story was on the mound, and the veteran Cueto was excellent for the Reds. He pitched seven innings, struck out four, and gave up only three runs.

But the younger and less experienced Ventura was better. In fact, he was great.

Ventura matched Cueto's seven innings and outperformed him at every turn. He struck out six, walked none, and allowed no runs before turning the game over to Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to close it out. The fiery righthander found his groove after that contest; while his final 2015 regular season numbers (13-8, 4.08 ERA), may not have been as strong as his 2014 stats (14-10, 3.20), he played a key role in helping the Royals get back to the postseason after they lost the World Series to the Giants the year before.

Outside of the American League Championship Series, in which he produced two quality starts with no decisions, Ventura struggled in the 2015 postseason. Fortunately, he had backup thanks to the July 26 trade with the Reds that sent Cueto to the Royals. Cueto was only so-so for Kansas City in the regular season, but was better for the club in the postseason.

Cueto turned out to be only a short-term rental for the Royals, but his iconic lockdown performances in Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the World Series cemented his place in franchise history. He left for free agency and the Giants after the season, and is currently a free agent after pitching for the Miami Marlins in 2023.

Ventura was expected by many to become the ace and face of the pitching staff, but was killed in a car accident after the 2016 season. But like Cueto, his place in Royals history is secure, albeit with a tragic ending. Both Ventura and Cueto will forever be remembered as Royals champions, but on one night during that magical 2015 season, they put on a memorable show against each other.

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