By Andy McCullough
Tribune News Service
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- James Shields fixed his eyes upon the man approaching from the dugout. He glared at manager Ned Yost as a final, vain gesture on a night marred by his futility. Shields could scarcely slow San Francisco in the first game of the World Series, and he could not prevent this inevitable result. When Yost raised his left hand, Shields looked away and handed over the baseball.
His arrival in Kansas City two years ago signaled the final touch in a revival nearly three decades in the making. Yet Shields' departure with none out in the fourth inning of Tuesday's 7-1 defeat, the first for the Royals this postseason, still left a taste of bitterness. Shields altered the culture of this organization, raised expectations for his teammates and instilled a joyous spirit that carried the club to this stage -- only to watch Shields crumble.
"I didn't get the job done tonight," Shields said. "Fortunately -- hopefully -- I've got another start."
Yost confirmed Shields would start in game five, even after his knees wobbled as the Giants, winners of two of the past four World Series, launched a haymaker in the early frames. In the process, they perhaps dealt a spiritual blow to the Royals, who hadn't lost since September. As left-handed ace Madison Bumgarner stood tall, San Francisco felled Shields with expediency.
Inside the Kansas City clubhouse, the players exhibited a combination of bemusement and annoyance with reporters wondering how this loss would affect them going forward. After so many twists during the season, the Royals insisted they would rebound with ease.
"We've already forgot about it," third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "It's over with. There's nothing we can do. It's done."
Yet questions about Shields will linger. In the minor leagues for Tampa Bay, a teammate affixed Shields with a nickname that now doubles as a millstone. The man dubbed "Big Game James" has an 8.05 postseason ERA for the Royals, with 17 runs yielded in 19 innings. His teammates will still call him "Juego," short for "Juego Grande," the Spanish translation of his now-mocked moniker, but the billing served only as a taunt, especially on a night when Bumgarner delivered seven tidy innings of three-hit baseball.
The Giants charged Shields for five runs in his three official innings, including a first-inning homer by Hunter Pence. One run scored after Shields departed in the fourth, as Danny Duffy walked in a run as he shook off his rust after a month of minimal use. Shields faced 16 batters, and eight of them reached base. The last was an RBI single by Michael Morse, San Francisco's hulking designated hitter, who inspired Yost to yank his presumptive ace.
Morse attacked a 91-mph heater, the final offering of the game from Shields, who has thrown 3,915 pitches this season, more than any other player in baseball. Shields operated without the most rudimentary tools for survival on Tuesday. His fastball lacked both life and command. The Giants feasted on the weakness.
"That surprised me, because he's always throwing in the zone," catcher Salvador Perez said. "Aggressive, getting ahead in the count." He chalked up Shields' outing as a "bad day."
Appearing for only the second time this postseason, Duffy protected the bullpen by logging three innings. He allowed two runs to score in the seventh. His effort could not alter the outcome.
Facing a deficit, the Royals' offense never responded. They squandered a third-inning chance against Bumgarner, and from there they slumbered, with an output that resembled so many barren nights at this park. Kauffman Stadium served as a stage for so many fireworks here in these playoffs. On Tuesday, only whimpers could be heard.
As the Giants and Royals lined up for pre-game introductions, Shields slipped inside the bullpen. He was loosening up after an 11-day layoff, a respite that included him passing a kidney stone. He had yet to record an out in three postseason starts this year, and felt disappointed in his performance.
At 7:05 p.m., Shields led the charge of Royals onto the diamond. He tossed his customary eight warm-up pitches. All around him the ballpark rollicked. Three minutes later, he threw the first pitch in a World Series in Kansas City in 29 years, a 93 mph fastball, outside for ball one.
The first pitch was a harbinger. Shields took the mound with little, if any, command of his fastball. Of his 32 pitches in the first inning, only 18 were strikes. When he shut out the Giants in August, Shields gave up four hits in nine spotless innings. San Francisco dinged him for five hits in Tuesday's first inning alone.
"Right now, he just hasn't been as sharp as he has been," Yost said.
The Giants snatched a three-run lead in the first, and the damage could have been worse. After singles by Gregor Blanco and Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval smashed a knee-high curveball into right field. Nori Aoki fumbled while fielding the ball, which prompted third-base coach Tim Flannery to send Posey home. Except Posey runs with the speed of drying cement, and he was thrown out on a relay from Omar Infante.
Shields ignored the lifeline. Seven pitches into a confrontation with Hunter Pence, his command failed him. Shields served up a 93-mph fastball that hummed down the plate's center. It disappeared over his head and landed past the center-field fence for a two-run homer. Shields wailed into his glove after striking out Michael Morse to end the misery of the first.
"Tonight," Shields said, "I didn't do my job."
And so the Royals bequeathed a sizable lead to Bumgarner, who has established himself as the preeminent pitcher of this postseason. He allowed five runs in four playoff starts this year. In two previous World Series starts, he spun 15 scoreless innings.
In the third inning, the Royals approached the verge of snapping Bumgarner's string of spotless Fall Classic frames. Infante took first after an error by shortstop Brandon Crawford. Mike Moustakas hammered a double into the right field corner, and Infante held at third. With none out, the top of the Kansas City order had a chance to break through.
"You cash it right there, you're back in the game," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "The crowd's right into it. Everyone's back into it."
Standing in their path was Bumgarner. His methodology was not subtle. He confronted them with fastballs.
The Royals swung and swung, to no avail. Alcides Escobar fouled back the first three pitches he saw, including heaters "right down the middle," he said. He fanned on a fourth pitch, a fastball that hovered near his eyes. Nori Aoki fouled off a pair of fastballs, only to find himself unable to check his swing on a dirt-bound curveball.
"When Aoki struck out, I said 'That guy is tough,'" Escobar said. "That's not easy."
After Lorenzo Cain walked to load the bases, Hosmer slapped a slider for an innocuous groundout. Bumgarner retired 12 batters in a row before Salvador Perez launched a solo homer in the seventh. By then, Shields had long departed the diamond.
Shields had retired seven batters in a row when the fourth inning began. He was not missing bats, but at least he missed a few barrels. The trend stopped in the fourth. Shields ditched his fastball for his second encounter with Pence, only to see the wild-eyed outfielder rope a double past Moustakas' glove.
The end for Shields was near. He sprayed cutters and changeups too far inside to Brandon Belt, who accepted his walk. Then Morse timed Shields' fastball and swept him from the stage. It was the fourth inning, but the ending had effectively been written. The author was Shields. His teammates could not erase his performance.
"We've got a lot of character in this clubhouse," Shields said. "Obviously, this is our first loss in this postseason. But we're not going to let that get us down."