On Tuesday night, the irresistible force of the Royals’ unblemished postseason run met the immovable object, an unfazed Giants team playing for its third title in five years, with many of the same players who shut down the last team to sweep an ALCS two years ago. The Giants pounced on James Shields in the first inning, building a 3-0 lead and winning going away, 7-1, to take a 1-0 World Series lead.
A few quick points about the game as we await our on-location coverage.
1. Retire the nickname
It's time to bury the "Big Game James" nickname, or at least return it to its rightful owner, NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy, with a note of apology. Shields came in sporting a 5.62 ERA through his first three starts of this postseason, and a 5.19 mark through nine career postseason starts. Both numbers had ballooned by the time his night was over, which wasn’t long.
Pitching on a whopping 10 days' rest — a hiatus that included passing a kidney stone, to be fair — Shields struggled to command his fastball from the get-go. He fell behind five of the seven hitters he faced, yielding five first-inning hits, one more than he allowed in shutting out the Giants back on August 9, and three runs. It might have been more had third base coach Tim Flannery not elected to send Buster Posey home from first base on Pablo Sandoval's double into the rightfield corner, which scored Gregor Blanco. Thanks to Posey's lack of speed and a great relay from Nori Aoki to Omar Infante to Sal Perez, Posey was out by a country mile, his third time being thrown out at the plate this postseason.
It didn’t save Shields, who battled Hunter Pence for seven pitches before leaving a 93 MPH fastball right over the plate. Pence clubbed a two-run homer to centerfield to run the lead to 3-0. By the time the dust settled, Shields had thrown 32 pitches, just 18 of which were strikes.
While he retired the side 1-2-3 in each of the next two innings, Shields found trouble in the fourth when Pence led off with a double down the third base line and took third on a wild pitch. After Brandon Belt walked, Michael Morse stroked an RBI single, ending Shields’ night at 70 pitches. Reliever Danny Duffy wound up letting in one of his inherited runners, running the score to 5-0 and inflating Shields’ postseason ERA to 7.11 for this year and for 5.74 for his career.
2. Big Game Bum
While Shields hit the showers early, opposite number Madison Bumgarner continued to lengthen his own October resume. Building on spotless 2010 and 2012 World Series starts in which he combined for 15 scoreless innings, he ran his streak to 21 ⅔ before serving up a solo homer to Salvador Perez with two outs in the seventh. For the sixth straight postseason start, including five this year, he worked at least seven innings.
The 25-year-old lefty had to labor somewhat initially, taking until the fourth inning to retire the side in order. He wound up in a doozy of a jam in the third — second and third, no outs — when Infante reached on a Brandon Crawford error and then Mike Moustakas doubled into the rightfield corner. Bumgarner recovered by striking out both Alcides Escobar and Aoki, getting the former to overswing at a couple of chest-high fastballs and whiffing the latter, the hardest Royals regular to strike out this year, on three pitches. After walking Lorenzo Cain to load the bases, he induced Eric Hosmer to ground out his very next pitch to end the inning, and went on to retire the next 11 hitters before Perez homered.
In all, Bumgarner threw 106 pitches over his seven innings before departing, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out five. He lowered his 2014 postseason ERA to 1.40, and his career mark through 11 starts and one relief appearance to 2.54.
3. The forgotten man
Duffy came into the night as the Royals’ answer to Michael Wacha, or the 2013 edition of Shelby Miller: an effective pitcher stuck in a break-glass-in-emergency role due to concerns about his cumulative workload. At the point when Ned Yost summoned him in relief of Shields, the 25-year-old lefty had thrown just one inning this postseason, back on October 2, and just nine innings since leaving his Sept. 6 start after just one pitch due to shoulder soreness. During his second start off the disabled list, the Royals’ brass cast him in this role in light of his compromised mechanics.
Duffy was not sharp initially, walking two of the first three batters he faced and letting in a run, but he didn’t give up a hit over his first three innings of work, striking out three while throwing 50 pitches. Alas, he overstayed his welcome, yielding a leadoff walk to Blanco and then an RBI triple to Joe Panik, who benefited from Aoki slipping while in pursuit of the ball; Panik would score via a Sandoval single off Tim Collins, who relieved Duffy.
In departing after 59 pitches, Duffy almost certainly laid to rest any thoughts Ned Yost might have have of giving him a spot start in the series, perhaps even in place of Shields. He’s not stretched out enough to work deep into a game.