Sunday, January 22, 2017

Yordano Ventura, 1991-2017; Andy Marte, 1983-2017

It hasn't even been 15 months since the Kansas City Royals won the World Series, and already they've lost a player.

That might be the shortest gap since the 1978-79 Yankees with Thurman Munson.

Yordano Ventura Hernández -- usually listed as Yordano Ventura -- was born on June 3, 1991 in Samaná, Dominican Republic. He signed with the Kansas City Royals as a 17-year-old free agent, and made his major league debut on September 17, 2013. He started against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium, pitching 5 2/3rds innings, leaving with a 3-1 lead. But the bullpen blew it, and the Indians won, 5-3.

He went 14-10 in 2014. He gave up a home run to Brandon Moss in the American League Wild Card game, but the Royals came from behind and beat the Oakland Athletics 9-8 in 12 innings. He started Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and again did not get the decision in a game which the Royals later won. The pattern held again in Game 2 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Manager Ned Yost started him in Game 6, which he dedicated to Oscar Taveras, a friend who, in an eerie foreshadowing, had been killed in a car crash in their native Dominican Republic 2 days earlier. He pitched the game with the message "RIP O.T #18" written on his hat, and shut the Giants out for 7 innings, getting the win and forcing a Game 7, which the Giants won.

He was the Royals' starting and winning pitcher on Opening Day 2015. He was soon involved in bench-clearing incidents in 3 consecutive starts, getting suspended for 7 games. He struggled for much of the season, but posted a 1.13 ERA after August 11, finishing the season 13-8.

He lost Game 1 of the ALDS to the Houston Astros, but pitched in the Royals' Game 4 win (without factoring into the decision). He started Games 2 and 6 of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, not getting a decision in either one. He started and lost Game 3 of the World Series against the Mets. That turned out to be the only game the Mets won in the Series -- the only World Series game they've won since 2000, and 1 of only 2 since 1986. The Royals won the World Series for the 1st time in 30 years.

He was again suspended for a volatile incident, against the Baltimore Orioles on June 7, 2016, and was suspended for 8 games. He finished the season 11-12, indicative of the Royals' fall from contention after back-to-back Pennants.

Early this morning, he was killed in a car crash in Juan Adrián, Dominican Republic. He was only 25 years old.

*

He wasn't the only one.

Andy Manuel Marte was born on October 21, 1983 in Villa Tapia, Dominican Republic. The Atlanta Braves signed him as a 16-year-old 3rd baseman, and made his debut on June 7, 2005. In an Interleague game with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Turner Field, he struck out against Paul Byrd in the 2nd inning. He grounded into a double play in the 4th, but it was enough to get a run home. He flew out to left in the 7th, nearly hitting a home run. He closed his game by popping up in the 8th. The Braves won, 5-2.

He was stuck behind Chipper Jones as the Braves' 3rd baseman, so they traded him to the Boston Red Sox, who soon traded him to the Cleveland Indians, where he was stuck behind Casey Blake, until Blake was traded in July 2008. He even pitched a perfect inning for the Indians against the Yankees on July 29, 2010, striking out Nick Swisher in a game the Yankees won 11-4. But he didn't make the most of his chance, and was released in 2010.
He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then with the Angels, but never got up to the big club in either case. Finally, on July 31, 2014, he was called back up, by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in his 1st at-bat with them, hit a pinch-hit home run off the Pirates' Jeff Locke. But he was released a week later, after only 6 games, and spent the 2015 and '16 seasons with Suwon-based kt Wiz in the KBO League, South Korea's baseball league.

Early this morning, he, too, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, in his case in San Francisco de Macorís (not to be confused with San Pedro de Macorís). He was 33, and probably had considerably less of a professional baseball career than did Yordano Hernández.

But we'll never know. Either or both of them could have written themselves into baseball history in a much more positive way. Hernández might have become one of the top starting pitchers of the 2020s. Marte might have become a coach or a manager with some success.

We'll never get to find out.

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