SAN FRANCISCO – This particular World Series has been spent attempting to separate the qualities and deficiencies of two similar ballclubs, a pair of overachieving wild-card teams that played themselves into late October.
By consensus, and by the results through four games, this was a somewhat unsatisfying endeavor.
Along came Madison Bumgarner. Again. With still a game and perhaps two to play, and with plenty left to be decided, Bumgarner appears to be the difference.
Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giants left-hander and the ace still standing in a postseason that has felled the rest, pitched the first World Series complete-game shutout since Josh Beckett in 2003, allowing four hits with eight strikeouts and no walks over the nine innings. The Giants beat the Kansas City Royals 5-0 and took a 3-games-to-2 lead back to Kansas City. Game 6 is scheduled for Tuesday night.
For the second time in the series, Bumgarner outpitched James Shields, although this time Shields put up something of a fight. A pair of early runs, scrounged together with the typical plodding, base-at-a-time attack of the Giants, were all Bumgarner required.
Nearing the end of October (and, likely, his time with the Royals), Shields had been cast into the difficult position of tending to mechanical and strategic adjustments between starts. His regular season ERA – 3.77 – had grown to 7.11 in four postseason starts. Opposing hitters had batted .337. The Royals had, often enough, won around him, in spite of him, a reality that contrasted with the notion that held Shields as the club’s go-to starter.
“Yeah, obviously, the last couple starts is not they way I wanted to end up,” he’d said on the eve of Game 5. “But sometimes those things happen, and unfortunately it’s right now. …You know, I was just kind of rushing to the plate. Ball was getting flat. Really flying open. Really just not getting the job done, bottom line.”
He’d been pounded by the Giants over three innings (and three more batters in the fourth) in Game 1, won by the Giants, 7-1.
In Game 5, just as in Game 1, he’d be opposed by Bumgarner, who’d been everything in the postseason for the Giants that Shields was supposed to have been for the Royals. That is, five starts, more than seven innings per start, a 1.40 ERA and four Giants wins.
Bumgarner, Shields could be sure, would bring his usual game. That left Shields, his floating mechanics, his eyesore of an October and whatever he’d make of what was left, the majority of which would be Game 5.
He was better than he’d been. He pitched OK. And, yet, the slightest wobble when Bumgarner is pitching the alternative halves and the game begins to lean away.
While Bumgarner was stacking zeroes, the Giants scored once in the second inning on a Hunter Pence single, a Brandon Belt bunt hit against the Royals’ aggressive shift, and Brandon Crawford’s infield grounder. The Giants scored again in the fourth inning, when they wrapped three singles around two Shields strikeouts. Pablo Sandoval scored from second base when Crawford flipped a single to center field. Sandoval had slowed around third base, but restarted when center fielder Jarrod Dyson failed to field the ball cleanly. Sandoval scored at a jog.
The Giants led 2-0. They added three more runs in the eighth inning, two coming on Juan Perez's double.
The night before, in a Game 4 they’d view as pivotal, the Giants had peppered five Royals pitchers with 16 hits, 13 of them singles. When Shields was finished after six innings Sunday, the Giants had eight more hits, all of them singles.