KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals had adopted the scrappy, intense attitude of Royals starter James Shields during their thrilling postseason run. They followed his cue on Tuesday night, too.
It just happened that Shields was tight from the very first pitch.
The veteran starter was pounded for five runs on seven hits and a walk, failed to record an out in the third inning and was pulled from Game 1 to a smattering of boos. Kansas City went on to lose 7-1 to the San Francisco Giants in its first World Series appearance in 29 years.
The same free-spirited Royals that had swept through the playoffs looked more like the 100-loss cellar-dwellers that Kansas city fielded so many times over the years.
The only run the Royals scored came on Salvador Perez’s homer in the seventh inning.
Their crisp defense had fallen apart, right fielder Nori Aoki at one point whiffing on a flyball that went for a triple. Their daring base-running had been made irrelevant. Their bullpen, too. And an offense that struggled all season managed three hits off Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, flailing at his pitches as if they were hoping to make contact rather than expecting it.
Meanwhile, their own ace failed to deliver.
Gregor Blanco tagged Shields for a leadoff single, Buster Posey added another single, and Pablo Sandoval doubled to right field before the game was 15 minutes old. Posey was thrown out at home on a nice relay throw by second baseman Omar Infante, but the Giants still had a 1-0 lead.
It became 3-0 when Hunter Pence homered on a full-count pitch in the next at-bat.
By the time Shields struck out Michael Morse to end the first, he had thrown 32 pitches. The anticipation that had built in the five days since the Royals won the AL pennant had evaporated, and a frenzied crowd that drove up ticket prices to an exhorbitant level had been silenced.
Shields, who shut out the Giants in August, set them down in order each of the next two innings.
But even then, he was fortunate that several hard-hit balls found gloves.
His luck ran out in the fourth when Pence, who entered the game 0 for 11 in his career against Shields, connected for a leadoff double. Brandon Belt walked and Morse added an RBI single, forcing Royals manager Ned Yost to make a long, stoic walk to the mound.
Shields trudged to the dugout as Danny Duffy trotted in from the bullpen.
It certainly wasn’t the outing the Royals expected of “Big Game James,” who has been credited with changing the losing clubhouse culture in Kansas City.
But it also wasn’t the first time Shields had failed up to the nickname given to him by his high school teammates.
After pitching marvelously down the stretch this season, Shields struggled in a wild-card win over Oakland.
He fared a bit better against the Angels in the divisional round, but struggled again in the AL Championship Series against Baltimore.
Even he acknowledged his October troubles, though he remained optimistic.
“I haven’t pitched the way I wanted to. There’s no doubt about it,” Shields said before Game 1. “I feel like I definitely could pitch better. With that said, I feel really good. My bullpen sessions have been really good, and I feel as good as I can feel right now.”
The positive vibes, for Shields and the Royals, didn’t last long Tuesday night.