Well, that sucked.
Salvador Perez, amazingly enough, came through again after I dared him to find me, hitting a home run angled directly at us into the left field bullpen; another twenty feet of distance and I might have an incredible souvenir. Unfortunately, that was literally the only positive thing that happened tonight. James Shields was, let’s be blunt, terrible, and he was terrible from the first batter. For the third time in four playoff starts, he surrendered a first-inning home run.
The Royals came back when he allowed a solo homer to Mike Trout, and they came back – barely – when he allowed a two-run homer to Brandon Moss. But they couldn’t come back when he allowed a two-run homer to Hunter Pence after allowing an RBI double to Pablo Sandoval, even after Giants’ third base coach Tim Flannery gifted him an out by foolishly sending Buster Posey home from first base. Shields faced 16 batters in total, and allowed seven hits, including two doubles and a home run. He struck out one batter. He threw just 39 of 70 pitches for strikes. There’s nothing good you can take from his performance.
Shields took the crowd out of the game in the first inning, and Madison Bumgarner refused to let them back in. They had their shot in the third inning, getting men on second and third with none out, but Bumgarner struck out Alcides Escobar and Nori Aoki. Ever since Perez struck out against Luke Gregerson in the Wild Card game, the Royals have been terrific about making contact with a man on third base and less than two out, which has led to more than one crucial run. When neither Escobar nor Aoki – Aoki being the best contact hitter on the team – could put a ball in play with the Giants playing the infield back, you knew we were in trouble. After Lorenzo Cain worked a tough walk, Eric Hosmer did what you knew he would do and swung out of his shoes at the first pitch – and when Bumgarner changed speeds on him, the result was a soft grounder to second base and the end of the Royals last, best chance to come back.
There’s not much to analyze here. The game lacked drama, which means it lacked any key managerial decisions. You could argue that Ned Yost should have pinch-hit for his lefty bats against sidearming Javier Lopez in the eighth inning, subbing Jayson Nix for Mike Moustakas and Josh Willingham for Nori Aoki. My friend Joe Sheehan certainly did. If the Royals had been down by two runs, or even four runs, I’d feel more adamantly that Yost made a mistake. But the Royals were so far down that, in order to finish off a six-run comeback, those lineup spots would have come up again, and the Royals would be locked into Nix against a right-handed reliever of Bochy’s choosing. Having Willingham in the game wouldn’t be such a disaster, but Aoki has hit LHP better than RHP throughout his career. I see Joe’s point, and he’s probably right, but…I just can’t get too upset about it. This game wasn’t decided by the managers; it was decided by the players. Madison Bumgarner pitched like an ace; James Shields pitched like a guy who was about to cost himself a fair amount of money in free agency.
The silver lining from Shields’ start was that it forced the Royals to use Danny Duffy in a game, and after a rough start – not surprising for a guy who had pitched once in over three weeks and came in with men on base – he was very effective, getting a lot of swinging strikes from Giants hitters in the fifth and sixth. After the sixth inning, he had thrown 50 pitches, and I thought it was time to pull him, because having established that he was effective, and with the Giants having six left-handed bats in their lineup, having two effective left-handed relievers in Duffy and Finnegan would be a huge asset going forward. They needed to pull Duffy there so that he could realistically pitch on two days’ rest in Game 3.
Instead Yost let him start the seventh, although after nine pitches, a walk, and some terrible defense by Aoki that turned a single or double into a triple, he was gone. That’s the one mistake I think Yost should own. The only reason to stretch Duffy there was if you were legitimately thinking that he should start later in the series. And I know a ton of people wanted him to take Shields’ next start after Shields threw up his fourth mediocre to bad start in a row. But…seriously, people, that was never going to happen. You really think that, in his last start in a Royals uniform, Shields was going to have the ball taken away from him? Short of an injury, that just seems impossible. Yost said as much after the game, making it clear that Shields was still his Game 5 starter.
Which is fine, if Shields is on a really tight leash in that game. But if that’s the case, if Duffy isn’t going to start later in this series, then you need him to be available out of the bullpen as soon as possible. Letting him throw extra pitches there, when you had six other relievers who hadn’t pitched in five days and an off-day looming on Thursday, was silly.
The good news is that the Royals lost the Giants’ best pitcher, which could have happened under any circumstances. If the Royals had lost 2-1, it wouldn’t have been as deflating, but it would have been just as damaging to their World Series chances. Tomorrow they face Jake Peavy, who was dominant for the Giants but had a 4.72 ERA with the Red Sox – back when he pitched in the AL – before getting traded at the deadline. In Game 3 they get Tim Hudson, with a 3.57 ERA; in Game 4 they get Ryan Vogelsong, with a 4.00 ERA. If they win tomorrow, they’ll be fine.
But they have to win tomorrow. Let’s not forget – Yordano Ventura left his last start with shoulder tightness, and while he’s had ten days to rest, that’s not something you can just wave away. It’s the World Series. The Royals are down 1-0, and they’re about to start a pitcher who pulled himself from his last start. In Nick Kenney We Trust, but that would make me nervous under the best of circumstances. In a game that would put the Royals in a 2-0 hole if they lose, with three games in San Francisco to come…that makes me borderline terrified.
Let’s not make too much of this. Three weeks after the Royals were six outs from being eliminated, they are 81 outs from being eliminated. As appealing as the dream of going 12-0 was, it was just a dream. There’s nothing wrong with losing a game after winning eight in a row. They just need to win four of their next six, which doesn’t seem like a terribly tall order. But if 24 hours from now they need to win four of their next five…now we’re in trouble.