This was exactly the way the Kansas City Royals didn’t want to start the World Series.
The Royals looked nothing like the exciting, freewheeling bunch that grabbed the imagination of the nation in winning eight straight playoff games. Instead, they looked starry-eyed and just happy to be in the Series. They were timid from the first batter when Gregor Blanco hit a liner to center that Lorenzo Cain played on a hop. Had this been the playoffs, he probably would have made an amazing diving catch, but he chose to play it safe.
This one was over five batters into the game when San Francisco’s Hunter Pence smoked a two-run homer to make it 3-0. You could feel the air go out of Kauffman Stadium right there, as Royals fans continued to be puzzled by the sudden decline in supposed ace James Shields, who is looking more and more like a shot pitcher with a straight fastball and a change-up that he can’t throw for strikes. And let’s forget the “Big Game James” monicker since he’s been in a six-week funk. Maybe he’s trying too hard to live up to his reputation and his adrenaline is leading to his mechanics being all skewed.
This is a huge series for Shields. As everyone knows, he’s up for a major free-agent payday this offseason and the Royals reportedly have talked about ponying up to retain him even if they have to overpay because of the leadership he provides.
But Shields hasn’t pitched well since August. He was no match for San Francisco slinger Madison Bumgarner, who as I expected overwhelmed the Royals. Kansas City’s hierarchy has to wonder if they’re seeing Shields — who has a lot of tread on his tire – decline right before their eyes, because they certainly don’t want to pay up to $20 million a year for a pitcher who has suddenly lost it.
Bumgarner was terrific, but he had a lot of help. Kansas City returned to its undisciplined ways at the plate, especially in the game-turning third inning.
The Royals had runners on second and third with nobody out. Alcides Escobar was the key man of the inning as he needed to put the ball in play and get a run home, but instead he swung at three pitches nowhere near the strike zone. Nori Aoki, who seldom strikes out, followed Escobar’s script and took a called third strike.
The Royals were uplifted when Cain walked to load the bases, but Eric Hosmer — even after seeing Bumgarner struggling with his command – was way too eager and swung at a terrible pitch, grounding out weakly to end the inning. For all his immense talent, Hosmer often lets his emotions get the best of him and he swings out of his shoes. I’m sure San Francisco’s scouting report indicated that, how the Royals often get themselves out more than the pitcher does.
Kansas City fizzled the rest of the game, except when Salvador Perez ran into a pitch and hit it out, which was the lone bright spot of the night. Perez didn’t have one of his best games behind the plate, including a pitch that was generously ruled a wild pitch, but the fact was Perez didn’t get down for the block. His homer hopefully will kick-start him offensively, as he’s been an automatic out for most of the playoffs, except for his game-winning hit against Oakland.
Let’s be honest. The Royals have to win tonight or this series is over in four or five games. San Francisco’s next three starters all have losing records, almost unheard of for a World Series team. Kansas City needs to jump on Jake Peavy early tonight and re-establish the running game. If the Royals fall behind early again, a lot of self-doubt will creep in. This group relies on emotion and if it goes flat, it will be a repeat of Game 1.