Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Almost two years ago, Dayton Moore made a trade for a moment like last night. He gave up one of the best prospects in baseball for two years of a number 1 starter, a guy who could be the leader of a pitching staff, both on the field and off of it. Moore brought James Shields to the Royals for a game like last night, and while the end result of Game 5 wasn’t quite what they wanted, Shields did everything you could ask for in what was likely his final appearance in a Royal uniform.
He pitched 6 innings, allowed 8 hits, walked 1, and struck out 4 batters, all while giving up only 2 runs. Both of those runs could have been prevented had the Royals’ normally excellent defense played even close to their standards. Alcides Escobar misplayed a pair of ground balls he typically fields without issue. Jarrod Dyson couldn’t corral a hard-hit ball. And Shields took the loss.
Such is baseball.
Obviously Madison Bumgarner is the story from last night – as well he should be – because he was incredible. Any time it felt like the Royals had an opportunity to pounce, he tightened things up and got strikeouts or weak contact. Bumgarner isn’t the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s been the best pitcher in this postseason, and it’s tough to win games when you don’t score any runs.
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But Shields did his part to keep the Royals in it for as long as possible.
Lost in Bumgarner’s excellence, and Ned Yost‘s nonsensical double-switch, was that Shields pitched a terrific game himself. Prior to this start, he made a mechanical adjustment in his windup, dropping his hands to his waist instead of starting them up near his face. Based on the small sample size of this start, I’d say the adjustment paid off.
He only struck out 4 batters, but Shields was even better than that, as he generated 20 swings-and-misses in 92 pitches. That’s a swinging strike rate of nearly 22%. His cutter alone got 12 whiffs, and he did a great job of keeping his offspeed and breaking pitches down below the zone. In his previous playoff starts, too many changeups and curveballs were being left in the middle of the plate, and batters were crushing them. Last night, they were either swinging through them or hitting them without any authority.
Unfortunately for Shields and the Royals, some of those weakly-hit balls ended up finding gaps in the defense, and they helped dig a hole from which the offense could not escape. Mostly because Bumgarner pushed a giant boulder on top of the hole and then threw the hole into the ocean.
Regardless of the outcome, this is why Dayton Moore made The Trade in December of 2012. It’s incredibly unlikely that this team would be in the World Series without James Shields, and had he not pitched as well as he did last night, the game could have been even more difficult than it already was. Granted, it didn’t end up mattering because of Bumgarner, but that doesn’t change the fact that Shields was awesome.
There will be more discussion of Shields’ impact on the Royals’ organization in the future, because it’s the kind of impact that merits discussion long after the player moves on. Even though he didn’t have a stellar postseason, and even though the Royals are now on the brink of elimination, when I think about Shields’ time with Kansas City, I’m going to think about a game like last night. Shields was great, and he did what he needed to do to keep the Royals in the game.