Okay, I’m really starting to believe in this shirt thing. It has Sarah completely convinced, but I’ve always been a bit pessimistic about the powers of a $27 Rally House James Shields jersey T-Shirt. However, after seeing the way the Royals have rallied to win the last two James Shields starts, I’m starting to buy in.
The Royals finished off a two-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and I improved to 9-0 while wearing the magical James Shields T-shirt (worn only on nights when Shields is starting) by way of an 8-7 back-and-forth battle on Tuesday night. Against the self-proclaimed ‘best fans in baseball’, the Royals refused to quit even when faced with big deficits and seeing their ace struggling.
Royals’ announcer Steve Physioc kept bringing up the similarities between this game and a meeting between the Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies back on April 7, 2013. That was just James Shields’ second start as a Royal, and the Phillies knocked him around by scoring four first-inning runs. The Royals gradually chipped away to take the lead, but Philadelphia made a late push to make it a nailbiter before Kansas City eventually won 9-8.
This night provided a near mirror-image. After needing an impressive double play to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first, Shields gave up a grand slam when Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong cleared the yard in the second. Since May 2 (a span of seven starts), James Shields has an ERA of 5.18 (26 earned runs in 45.2 innings) while allowing opponents to hit .337/.358 off him. He has given up seven home runs in his last three starts.
Shields seems to go through a funk that spans four-to-eight games at some point each summer, so I do expect him to return to his usual dominance here before long. It must also be mentioned that each of his last seven starts have come against winning teams, but that doesn’t help his reputation concerning his “Big Game” nickname. Long story short, as rough as Shields was tonight and has been for the last month, I think he’ll be just fine.
After being lifeless for the first four innings, the Royals’ offense came alive in the fifth inning. Mike Moustakas started the rally with a one-out double off of Cardinals starter Jamie Garcia, and he came around to score the team’s first run on Alcides Escobar’s first triple of the year. James Shields then lined a ringing double into the left-center gap to score Escobar; it was Shields’ second hit of the game, and the first double of his career. He would come around to score on Nori Aoki’s RBI single, making the score 4-3.
Following an Omar Infante lineout and an Eric Hosmer hit-by-pitch, Alex Gordon stepped up and promptly homered for the second consecutive night. Garcia hung a breaking ball and the Royals’ left fielder didn’t miss it, barreling his team-leading sixth dinger of the year. As quickly as Garcia had cruised through the first 4.1 innings, the Royals had hung a six-spot on him. In the process, the team batted for the cycle in a single inning for the first time since 2009. It’s amazing what happens when you string together extra base hits, isn’t it?
Despite being given the opportunity to secure his seventh win of the season, James Shields gave the lead right back to St. Louis in the bottom of the fifth inning. A Mike Moustakas error gave way to two unearned runs – a sac fly by Oscar Taveras and an RBI double by Jhonny Peralta. It got worse for Shields when he gave up a leadoff home run to the normally light-hitting Peter Bourjos in the Cardinals’ sixth. Following a walk and a groundout, Ned Yost pulled Shields after his shortest outing of the season. The Royals’ ace final stat line looked like this: 5.1 innings, nine hits, seven runs (five earned), a season-high four walks and a season-low one strikeout.
The Royals’ offense would rally to tie the game on a clutch two-out single by Alcides Escobar in the eighth. Following a scoreless inning of relief from Wade Davis, Eric Hosmer singled home Omar Infante off Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal to secure an 8-7 lead. Since Dale Sveum was promoted to hitting coach, Kansas City has scored six or more runs in four of the last six games.
Once again, the Royals’ bullpen was phenomenal. Aaron Crow, Wilking Rodriguez, Davis and Greg Holland combined for 3.2 innings of shutout baseball, yielding only one hit and striking out three. Rodriguez made his MLB debut by throwing a perfect seventh inning. Davis was credited with the win, becoming the first A.L. reliever to reach the five win mark in 2014. Greg Holland worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, right through the heart of the Cardinals’ order to secure his 16th save in 17 chances. Holland struck out Matt Holiday and Allen Craig on downright nasty pitches as he continues to be one of the game’s most dominant closers.
We all remember how painful it was to watch James Shields receive losses in 2-1 games last May. Throughout his career, Shields has always received little run support, but that’s all changed this year. After making his 14th start of the year, Shields finds himself among the top three A.L. starters with over six runs of support per game. They play so many games that eventually things balance out, so it’s nice to see James get a few of these pick-me-up efforts form the offense.
I speak on behalf of everyone in Kansas City when I say that Cardinals fans are dirty spoiled little scumbags, and it has truly felt wonderful to go into Busch Stadium and punch them right in the mouth these last two days. The Royals will now come home for the second half of this home-and-home series with their I-70 rivals. On Wednesday, Jason Vargas (5-2, 3.39 ERA) and Kansas City will face the one of the best pitchers in baseball in Adam Wainwright (8-3, 2.32).
It’s a Royal Coaster ride that involves the best fan base in baseball (and I’m not talking about those dirtbags on the other side of the state). It involves 10 year-processes, stupefying World Series comments and magical James Shields T-shirts. Being a Royals fan is certainly an experience for the ages, and there’s not much that’s more fun for this fan base than sweeping the Cardinals. I may have a deep feeling of affection for James Shields, but Alex Gordon is quickly moving up my man-crush list as well. This team shows potential of how good they can be.
Here’s hoping it continues.
Written by Ryan LandrethPublished 04 Jun 2014, 18:23 IST