It’s too easy to say, “That’s why they acquired James Shields.” But I think it would be accurate.
On Wednesday, after the Royals dropped the first two games of the series to Detroit to fall out of first place, Shields threw a brilliant start. He allowed a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler, picked him off first and then retired the next 18 batters in a row. Shields exited after 7 innings, 98 pitches and no runs.
And he probably saved the season.
That my be some serious hyperbole on my part, but this is September, this is a pennant race and damned if I remember how to react to seeing something like that. I do know it was one of the more clutch pitching performances I’ve seen by a Royals starter.
I wrote about Game Score the other day in reference to Jeremy Guthrie’s stinker in the series opener. On Wednesday, Shields finished with a Game Score of 80. That is tied for his third best start of the year. He has a pair of starts that tallied 83 on the Game Score meter, including his start last Friday in New York. So let that sink in for a moment. In the biggest road trip of the Royals season, Shields made two starts. He threw a total of 15.1 innings. He allowed five hits. He recorded 14 strikeouts. He surrendered one walk. And he didn’t allow a single run.
Big Game? Damn straight.
I sent out a Tweet midway through the game that I’ve spent the last four months reconsidering my original takes on The Trade. How could you not?
Maybe at some point in the offseason, I’ll dive a little deeper into the impact, but on the surface the Royals have realized a massive short-term dividend from this deal. Shields has been inconsistent at times this season and had a stretch of starts from mid-May through all of June where it looked like he was fatigued. Maybe the result of so many innings in past seasons. Yet aside from a single stinker of a starter in that make-up game against the Yankees at the end of August, he’s been brilliant down the second half of the season.
Of course I’m thinking of other aspects of The Trade. The Wade Davis Experience came on to pitch another lock-down ninth. And other intangibles as well. Yeah, I’ll go there. Later, though. It will be fun.
As I mentioned in the lede, it may be simplistic to say that’s why they acquired Shields, but maybe sometimes the best explanations are also the easiest explanations.
Just like that night in New York in his last start, Shields mixed his pitches in a most effective manner. Fastball, cut fastball, curve, sinker and that wonderful change-up. He kept the ball down in the zone and got a ton of swinging strikes at pitches that darted down and out of the zone. Detroit hitters had no chance.
And because of that start, the Royals are back in first.