With their wild-card hopes running thin, the Kansas City Royals have a very small margin of error entering the season's final week.
That would seem to put a lot of pressure on rookie starter Yordana Ventura, but if his debut was any indication, he could be just fine on the mound against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on Monday night.
The Royals (82-73) are 3 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the AL's second wild card with seven games left to play.
Neither club has a particularly challenging remaining schedule. After three games in Seattle, Kansas City ends with a four-game road set against the Chicago White Sox, while Cleveland concludes with two home games against the White Sox and four at Minnesota.
The Royals claimed a 4-0 win over Texas in 10 innings on Sunday, walking off on a Justin Maxwell grand slam against former Kansas City reliever Joakim Soria.
"I kind of blacked out after I looked at Gordo (Alex Gordon) over there going crazy," Maxwell said. "I just saw the excitement in all my teammates' eyes. I couldn't wait to get around the bases and to home plate."
James Shields gave the Royals yet another strong pitching performance, throwing eight innings of six-hit ball. Kansas City starters have posted a 2.62 ERA during the team's current 9-5 stretch.
Ventura (0-0, 1.59 ERA) will try to continue that roll after an impressive showing in his first major league start. The right-hander limited the Indians to a run and five hits over 5 2-3 innings Tuesday, exiting with a lead before the bullpen fell apart in a 5-3 loss.
The 22-year-old's night started inauspiciously as he issued a four-pitch walk to begin the game, but he settled down, wielded a fastball that hit as high as 101 mph.
"Everyone knows I was nervous," he said. "That's why I couldn't throw one strike. But thank God, I was able to make adjustments and get next guy out."
Seattle will counter with another rookie in Brandon Maurer (4-8, 6.95), who has struggled lately but showed encouraging signs in his most recent outing.
The right-hander yielded two runs and five hits over five innings and matched a season high with six strikeouts in a 6-2 loss at Detroit on Tuesday. He had posted an 11.32 ERA over his previous four appearances, including a three-inning start in which he allowed five runs. He gave up three runs and four hits over 1 1-3 innings of relief in a 7-6 loss at Kansas City on Sept. 5.
"I thought Maurer was much better today than he's been," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's struggled lately, and he was pitching at this time of year against that team, but he didn't let any of that get to him. He kept his emotions in check and did a very nice job."
The Mariners (68-88) come off a 3-2 road win Sunday over the Los Angeles Angels that was twice delayed by a swarm of bees.
The Royals, who won three of four against Seattle at home earlier this month, are 38-36 on the road as they try to finish above .500 away from home for the first time since a 43-39 mark in 2003.
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