The San Francisco Giants pounced James Shields on Tuesday night, and Game One of the World Series was out of reach the moment they did. The Kansas City Royals were never going to score more than three runs against Madison Bumgarner, and once those three runs became five in the fourth inning, there was virtually no hope that even a bullpen implosion could let the Royals back into it.
I know that makes for a boring story, but it’s the truth.
There was considerable hand-wringing over Ned Yost’s decision to go to Danny Duffy in the top of the fourth inning, with Shields in trouble again and no one out. Duffy hadn’t pitched since the ALDS, and was generally considered to be buried in the bullpen for reasons of seasonal fatigue. The choice was sub-optimal; there’s no doubt about that. You want to bring Duffy in with the bases empty, the slate clean. You want him not to rush even one iota to get ready to come in. Yost should have gone with Brandon Finnegan, or even Jason Frasor, gotten through the inning and brought out Duffy to begin the fifth frame. The failure to do so cost the Royals a run.
Still, that mistake cost the Royals almost nothing. They simply weren’t going to win last night. They were facing one of the five best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball, and their two best hitters are left-handed. When James Shields took the mound and was unable to get a feel for his changeup, they were doomed.
There were a half-dozen interesting, impressive or exciting plays in the latter half of the game that, I think, people want to make into more than they were. Maybe people want to say that the deflating bases-loaded walk Duffy issued in that fourth frame was the thing that finally killed the mojo, took the crowd irrevocably out of it, spoiled the festivities. Maybe they want the miserable misplay that was Norichika Aoki’s address of a Joe Panik single in the seventh, turning it into an RBI triple, to be the final nail in the coffin. Maybe they would point to the running catch Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford made to end the seventh inning, ranging far into center field to prevent a bloop single by Omar Infante.
The bottom of the third inning almost has a case. The Royals put runners on second and third with nobody out, and the top of the order due. Bumgarner struck out Alcides Escobar, then Aoki, two guys who whiffed less than once every six trips to the plate in 2014, and ended up escaping the inning unscathed. That was huge, especially once the Giants put themselves beyond the reach of such a tepid rally by knocking around Shields and Duffy in the fourth.
None of those moments really determined anything, though. Here’s the one that did:
Ball, Ball, Strike (looking), Strike (swinging), Ball, Foul, H Pence homered to right (421 feet), P Sandoval scored.
That made it 3-0 Giants. It might as well have been a walk-off. A few loose ends:
- While the beginning and end of Duffy’s night were each brutal, he looked quite good in the middle two innings of his outing. All told, he got eight swings and misses on 59 total pitches, and he had the confidence in both his stuff and his location to throw six strikes in a seven-pitch at-bat to Michael Morse—ending it with a whiff. Duffy just might be able to deliver some quality innings in another tight spot later in the Series. If that’s all Kansas City gets out of this game, it’s not a bad consolation prize.
- Josh Willingham pinch-hit for Billy Butler in the bottom of the ninth, with flame-throwing Hunter Strickland on the mound. In my Series preview Tuesday, I noted that Butler has had no luck against good fastballs this season. Hopefully, that’s the reason Yost lifted him, and hopefully, Willingham’s six-pitch strikeout won’t deter Yost from doing the same thing if a more important iteration of the same matchup comes up later in the Series.
- Bruce Bochy also made an unconventional choice to pinch-hit, but his came in the fourth inning. Juan Perez batted for Travis Ishikawa, and laid down a sacrifice bunt. That makes two managerial moves I liked during the contest. Perez is miles better than Ishikawa defensively, is a more experienced bunter and (if the bunt had gone by the wayside, in a two-strike count or whatever the case may have been) is no worse a hitter against left-handed pitchers than is Ishikawa. The big-picture idea—widen the lead, if only by one more run, and bring in a guy who will help it stand up—is classic Bochy, and in that particular case, it was brilliant.
- This game may have matched the two worst-nicknamed pitchers in baseball. Bumgarner is one of the game’s treasures, a personal favorite of mine with remarkable talent and an exceptional back story. He was raised in a log house his father built. His hometown is, unofficially, Bumtown, because of all the people named Bumgarner who populate it. That he’s saddled with the truncated first name-truncated surname sobriquet is an abomination, not least because it makes him MadBum. MadBum! Unless we’re all British bumpkins discussing irritable bowel syndrome, there’s no reason any of us should be making regular reference to MadBum. And “Big Game James” Shields actually has a terrible track record in big games. If we do nothing else, let us rebrand these two strong starters before the final curtain falls on 2014.
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