A clubhouse attendant packed James Shields’ strobe light into a cardboard box. A team official reduced the volume of the speaker system. Into the room strode Shields, the man at the center of an 8-0 Royals romp over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday, a victory accrued when the team’s best pitcher operated without his sharpest weapons.
“I didn’t think my stuff was that good today, to be honest with you,” Shields said. “I was erratic. I was all over the place. It was just a grind day.”
Shields holds himself to a higher standard than most. In the clubhouse, he facilitates chemistry. Hence, the dimmed lights and throbbing bass in the wake of each victory. On the mound, he sets a more concrete example for his teammates to follow.
His seven scoreless innings on Wednesday created the backbone of a light-hearted afternoon. Shields (4-3, 2.70 ERA) toed the tightrope but never wavered while facing one of baseball’s least productive lineups.
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His outing was notable for the consistent traffic on the bases. He gave up seven hits, walked two batters and hit another, yet avoided any run-scoring landmines, with the defense operating as a safety net. Eric Hosmer powered the offense with four RBI.
“That was what you call an A.A.G.G,” manager Ned Yost said. “All-around good game.”
A day ago, the team (16-17) arrived at Petco Park careening through a five-game losing streak. Fan unrest back home fomented. A pair of West Coast wins, even over a lowly opponent like San Diego, should ease the tension somewhat, even after a 12-inning loss on Monday that Hosmer called “heartbreaking.”
“To come back and save the series and win the series like that, it says a lot about this team,” he said.
The players departed for Seattle, where more robust competition awaits. The Mariners are on a five-day winning streak. A four-game series begins on Thursday night.
For the Royals, the timing feels apt. Baffled on back-to-back nights by the soft-tossing duo of Eric Stults and Robbie Erlin, the lineup harassed top Padres starter Andrew Cashner into submission. He lasted only four innings, ambushed by a trio of runs in a 43-pitch first inning.
“I think we’re starting getting to get our stride a little bit,” Yost said.
Hosmer clapped a trio of run-scoring hits: A two-run single in the first, another RBI single in the sixth and his last in the eighth.
The Royals needed 11 innings to plate three runs in Tuesday night’s victory. They accumulated that total with six at-bats on Wednesday. They owe an assist to Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, who bungled a pair of softly struck groundballs during the frame.
After Cabrera’s first error, Hosmer punched a changeup up the middle for a two-run single. Two batters later, Cabrera fumbled another grounder. The door was open for Danny Valencia, starting in place of Omar Infante at second base, to break his bat on an RBI single to left.
Two of the three runs were unearned. But the Royals forced Cashner to exert himself. Shields starred in the inning’s final at-bat, a nine-pitch affair in which he fouled back four fastballs before grounding out.
“I hadn’t seen live pitching in a year,” Shields said. “It looked like 110 mph going at me. But it was a quality AB, I guess.”
Shields returned to action after Detroit pounded him for eight runs on Friday. Wednesday marked his fifth afternoon start of the season. “I’m getting too old for these day games,” he said upon his arrival in the clubhouse during the morning.
Shields does not mind the early mornings. He arises at 6 a.m. during the offseason to work out. Sometimes he merely prefers the prospect of a day off during a day game.
Instead, he drove in from his home in nearby Rancho Sante Fe and he went to work. He was far from masterful. But Shields does not pride himself on artistry. He aims to drag his club as deep into a game as possible.
He solved a two-runner jam in the second, defused a fourth-inning leadoff walk with a double play and watched Jarrod Dyson sprawl for a run-saving catch in the fifth. The sixth inning felt like more of the same: Shields grounded pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal into a double play to extinguish another threat.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to go out there without your good stuff and compete,” Shields said. “That’s what I did today.”