KANSAS CITY -- It was a pivotal game for the Royals, not one that helped the immediate present, but certainly one that could be important for the near future.
Premier pitching prospect Yordano Ventura, appearing calm and confident, made a highly successful debut before a curious crowd of 21,685 although the Royals ultimately lost, 5-3, to the Indians on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The loss cost the Royals ground in the American League Wild Card race, as they fell to 3 1/2 games behind co-leaders Tampa Bay and Texas. But Ventura's performance boded well for days and years ahead.
"Amazing. Electric stuff, we knew that," Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said. "He threw the first four pitches for a ball and you're kind of like, 'Ut-oh, how's he going to react in this atmosphere in his first start?' But he bounced back and did great for us. Couldn't ask for more."
Yes, Ventura will get another start.
"What he did was pretty good," manager Ned Yost said. "Pretty good stuff. For a game of this magnitude to go out there and pitch a game like he did, I think warrants another start."
A playoff-like atmosphere prevailed at Kauffman Stadium as Kansas City fans -- and the Cleveland team -- got their first look at Ventura pitching for the Royals.
"This was kind of a must-win game," said the Indians' Nick Swisher. "We didn't want to come in here and lose the first two. With the young kid making his start today, the ballpark was electric, man. They came out in full force with their fans today."
Routinely throwing fastballs between 97 and 100 mph, Ventura worked 5 2/3 innings and left holding a 3-1 lead. The right-hander, 22, gave up five hits, three of them in the sixth inning, when the Indians scored their only run against him. Using 86 pitches, 50 strikes, he struck out three and walked two.
His impressive first start and performance the rest of the way will undoubtedly be felt not only now, but during the offseason, when management makes decision on the pitching rotation.
Ventura settled down nicely after walking the first batter he faced, Michael Bourn, on four pitches.
"Yeah, everyone knows I was nervous. That's why couldn't throw one strike," Ventura said. "Thank God I was able to make the adjustment and get the next guy out."
That was Swisher, who grounded weakly into a double play. Ventura fanned Jason Kipnis and exited his first inning to a standing ovation from an expectant audience.
The first hit off Ventura came in the third as Yan Gomes lined a 102-mph fastball into center field, where Jarrod Dyson dove, but could only trap the ball.
Meantime, the Royals gave him a 3-0 lead against right-hander Corey Kluber. A walk to Emilio Bonifacio and Eric Hosmer's double to the left-center-field wall produced a first-inning run. The Royals loaded the bases with one out in the third inning and got two runs on Salvador Perez's sacrifice fly and Mike Moustakas' double.
Things finally got sticky for Ventura in the sixth. Swisher hit an infield single, and after the second out, both Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley lined singles into right field. Right fielder David Lough couldn't quite get to Santana's ball for the third out.
"It was Santana who hit it, and on those balls, you never know," Lough said. "The wind was blowing in and I did everything I could to just dive in front of it. I knew I wasn't going to get there, so I just knocked it down."
A run was home and Yost signaled for left-hander Will Smith in the bullpen.
Ventura headed to the dugout with the crowd on its feet, roaring with appreciation. The rookie reciprocated, doffing his cap before stepping inside to handshakes and high-fives. His debut received the stamp of approval.
"It was very nice," Ventura said. "When Salvador came to the mound, he told me that if they give you a standing ovation to tip your hat in appreciation."
Ventura's chances for victory vanished in the seventh, when the Indians scored twice against right-hander Kelvin Herrera. He hit Gomes with a pitch, gave up triple to Bourn and a sacrifice fly to Swisher, and it was 3-3.
It was a huge disappointment for Herrera, who has Ventura as his apartment guest. They're good friends from the Dominican Republic.
"He's my friend. I tried to put up a zero for him and the team," Herrera said. "I'm proud of him. He threw the ball good tonight. He's going to have a good career."
The Indians went ahead in the eighth against reliever Wade Davis, who walked Santana and then gave up a run-scoring double to Asdrubal Cabrera. Gordon nearly caught the ball as he broke back to the left-field wall.
"It was a ball I definitely needed to catch. I just made a play for it and it hit off my glove," Gordon said. "I should've caught it. I'm not going to try to make an excuse. It would've turned the inning around, and unfortunately I didn't make the play."
The Tribe got an insurance run as Bourn led off the ninth with a home run against Luke Hochevar.
The Indians stayed a half-game behind in the Wild Card chase, and Baltimore is two games back. The Royals are tied with the Yankees at 3 1/2 behind.
Whatever happens by season's end, Ventura made a lasting first impression.
"We knew he could dial it up," Bourn said. "That's always the case when you're facing somebody for the first time, but what are you going to do? You've got to try to hit against him. He's going to throw the ball with good velocity, good curveball, nice changeup, he had some cut on his ball at times."
Or as Swisher, asked what impressed him about Ventura, said: "Other than the fact that he was throwing 100 mph?"
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.