KANSAS CITY—Suddenly, the Royals are not so regal.
After battling and bonding their way through the first three opponents of this post-season — undefeated in eight games, running teams out of the ballpark — the Royals, in their third World Series and first since 1985, after five days with no games, ran into a true big-game starter in left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
The home team suffered a 7-1 loss, handing home-field advantage over to the Giants. These Royals entered like Kate and left like Pippa.
Were they flat? Not really. The story on this night was Bumgarner. Until surrendering a home run to catcher Sal Perez with two out in the seventh, snapping his World Series shutout innings streak at 21, Bumgarner had been masterful. Before Perez took him deep to left, he had retired 12 straight batters and was cruising. The homer snapped his post-season record of 32 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run.
Bumgarner was removed after seven innings and boasts a sparkling World Series career ERA of 0.41. The fact is that for this Series to go long, the Giants ace needed to be an ace. He was.
The six-run trouncing by the Giants marked the 12th time in the past 34 World Series that an opening game has been decided by five or more runs. It does not bode well for the Royals, because the only teams to be trounced in Game 1 at home and then go on to win the World Series since 1980 were the 1982 Cardinals, losing 10-0 to Milwaukee; the 1996 Yankees, losing 12-1 to the Braves; and the 2009 Bombers, losing 6-1 vs. the Phillies in the Bronx. The other eight big-score winners took the Series.
The Big Game moniker for Royals starter James Shields has always seemed a little affected for a man who entered Game 1 against the Giants with a 3-4 post-season record and an ERA over five. But maybe the shaky Tuesday start, with three runs on five hits in the first inning, can be excused. After all, he had passed painful kidney stones following his previous start in Baltimore, 11 days earlier, and was violently ill for 24 hours according to manager Ned Yost. Nevertheless . . .
Gregor Blanco led off the game with a single and Buster Posey lined a hit to left with one out. Clutch third baseman Pablo Sandoval doubled to the right-field corner to open the scoring, but a perfect relay from Nori Aoki to Omar Infante to Sal Perez cut down Posey at the plate. He went in softly and standing up. Recall that the new home plate collision rule was the result of his injury in 2011.
The next Giants batter, Hunter Pence, had been 0-for-11 lifetime against Shields, but slammed a long home run just to the right of straightaway centre for a 3-0 lead. Pence has reached base safely in all 11 post-season games. It was his first home run since Aug. 20, against Andrew Cashner.
But that left nine innings of offence for the Royals to try and do something about the deficit. Bumgarner, however, may have become the newest Big Game hunter in baseball.
In the third inning, Brandon Crawford booted a slow grounder to short by Infante. To make matters worse, with the Giants nursing a three-run lead, Mike Moustakas doubled to the right-field corner, bringing up the top of the order.
Bumgarner took a deep breath, then struck out Alcides Escobar and Aoki. He lost a battle and walked Lorenzo Cain to load the bases, but Eric Hosmer swung at the next pitch and grounded to second base. “Our thought was to put all, or most, of our speed at the top of the order and see if we can’t create some havoc for our run producers,” Yost said prior to Game 1. Unfortunately, in situations like that one, the Royals’ table-setters became the RBI guys via in-game circumstances.
But the Giants continued to pressure Shields, knocking him out of the game without retiring any of the three batters he faced in the fourth. After a Michael Morse RBI single, Juan Perez sacrificed two runners over against left-hander Danny Duffy. But Blanco walked with the bases loaded to drive in the fifth run. It was his second base-on-balls with the sacks full this post-season.
The urgency of the post-season changes a lot. Down by five in the seventh, Aoki tried to cut off a Joe Panik base hit and keep Blanco from scoring all the way from first. Instead, the ball skipped by to the wall and Panik had a triple. The infield came in to cut off the run at the plate and Sandoval ripped a grounder through the left side as the beat went on.
The Royals will try to even the series Wednesday and send it back to San Francisco tied 1-1.