May 6, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Royals’ James Shields Looking For Support


On July 27, 1993, Rafael Palmeiro lofted a ball over the wall in right field at Kauffman Stadium to give the Texas Rangers a 1-0 lead. It was the first hit of the game for Texas. It was the only hit of the game for Texas.

Kevin Appier‘s final line on that night: 9 innings, one hit, one run, one walk, 11 strikeouts. And because the Royals couldn’t score, he took the loss.

That may be the most painful example of a great start – an excellent start – wiped out by no run support. Might be. Except nearly a year before, on July 23, 1992, Appier threw 10 innings of shutout ball, allowed just three baserunners and got to watch as Cleveland won a 1-0 game in 14 innings.

Appier has two starts in his career where he achieved a game score higher than 90, but the Royals never scored a run and eventually lost. That’s brutal.

But what about a full season like that?

The Royals made headlines before the 1993 season when they signed Kansas City product David Cone to a three year deal to come home. It was Ewing Kauffman’s last big move before his death that August. With Appier already in the fold, it looked like a strong 1-2 punch. And it was. Appier won the ERA title (and should have won the Cy Young Award, in my entirely biased opinion) while Cone a 3.33 ERA. Both pitchers combined for 492.2 innings pitched.

Cone finished the year with 14 losses. He spent all year getting hardly any run support at all. The Royals scored five or more runs nine times when Cone was starting and never scored more than seven in a game. Cone enjoyed 3.6 runs scored 2.9 runs per 27 outs in Cone starts, and 2.6 runs per 27 outs when Cone was actually on the mound. Basically, if Cone slipped up and threw even a quality start (three earned runs in six or more innings), he could still run a good chance of being the losing pitcher. That’s a slim margin of error.

Enter James Shields. His two starts against the Chicago White Sox have him feeling sympathy with Appier and Cone. Shields threw six innings in his opening day start in Chicago, giving up one run, but the Royals mustered none of their own and Shields drew the loss. On Monday, Shields carried a no-hitter deep into the game, but even after losing his shot at history, he had still thrown eight innings of shut out ball. The result, as we know, could become infamous depending on how the rest of the season unfolds.

Shields didn’t come back out for the ninth inning after his dominant start. Ned Yost turned it over to Greg Holland, who fell behind, gave up hits, and, despite Chicago’s best efforts to bail him out, gave up the tying run. Kelvin Herrera gave up a homer in the tenth inning. The Royals lost. Howls of outrage. Gnashing of teeth.

In his seven starts, the Royals are 3-4. In those four losses, he’s given up a combined five runs. In one of those starts, at home against the Toronto Blue Jays, he still went the distance and really made just two mistakes. The Royals have scored a combined six runs in those losses and a combined 22 runs while he’s been on the mound.

Shields is doing his part. If the Royals are able to get a timely hit in the opener, maybe get a second run on Monday, he (and the Royals) could have two more wins.

But alas, sometimes that’s baseball. Shields is the ace of this staff, and he’s been running into his counterpart on nearly every team he’s faced.

Date Opponent Starter ERA+* Runs Off SP SP Game Score Shields Game Score
4/1/13 White Sox Chris Sale 129 0 71 58
4/7/13 Phillies Cole Hamels 92 8 17 44
4/13/13 Blue Jays R.A. Dickey 80 2 61 74
4/20/13 Red Sox Clay Bucholz 270 1 63 65
4/25/13 Tigers Justin Verlander 275 3 58 61
4/30/13 Rays Alex Cobb 138 4 38 65
5/6/13 White Sox Chris Sale 129 1 67 85

*at the start of Tuesday, May 7

With the exception of Cobb (who’s pitched well), Shields has faced either the #1 or #2 starter on the opposing teams. And these aren’t #1′s in name only. These are perennial Cy Young candidates and/or winners. With the exception of the Royals explosion against Hamels, the Royals haven’t done much against the tough competition. But again, Shields has done his part, outdueling his counterpart (at least by the game score) in every game but opening day.

After a game like Monday, when Shields was probably (we don’t know but it’s a safe bet) going to close out the shutout, you could understand how he might be frustrated, even if he’d never say so publicly.

There’s only so much Shields can do. He’ll continue to pitch deep into games, get key outs, and perform like the best pitcher the Royals have seen since Zack Greinke in 2009. But it won’t mean much if the Royals can’t get him some support. For what it’s worth, in 1994, David Cone went 16-5 and the Royals gave him better than five runs a game of support. Cone won the Cy Young Award. If the Royals can score for Shields, he’ll be in that discussion this year.

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