It was fitting that a game that included a panda and a moose would turn on “Big Game” James Shields being felled by Hunter Pence. World Series? It was more like the Wild Kingdom. This is supposed to be an evenly matched series on paper, as they say. Well, look out Kansas City because I think the Giants packed the paper shredder. This was billed as a David vs. David battle. All the Goliaths had already been slain, ie the Nationals, Cardinals, Orioles and Tigers. These games were expected to be decided with a slingshot, but the Giants showed up with a bazooka. Kansas City here we come? More like Kansas City here we come to conquer. All the visiting sportswriters keep drooling about Kansas City barbecue. After their 7-1 Game 1 loss to the Giants, some might be ready to stick a fork in the Royals already.
No doubt the Royals are consoling themselves with the fact that Madison Bumgarner can’t pitch in Games 2, 3 and 4. That is a sound way to look at things, since the rest of the rotation — Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong — are not likely to dominate. But does that matter? In a month that ends with Halloween, the Giants are becoming the scariest thing in October. The Giants have won 16 of their last 18 post-season games. If the Giants win three of the next six games, they will join company with the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942-44-46 as the only National League clubs to win three World Series in five years. The Giants now go to the World Series every other year. The Royals haven’t been there since 1985, meaning their next trip will come in 2043.
Bumgarner is likely to be retired at his ranch by then, but the record books and those who are witnessing his performance on the big stage are going to have quite a story to tell. His scoreless streak in his first 21 innings of World Series play is only topped by Giants legend/Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Bumgarner had a post-season road scoreless streak of 32-2/3 innings, He already has six post season victories. So with MadBum on the mound for Game 1, Giants fans weren’t too worried about the man they call James “Big Game” Shields. In fairness to the Royals ace, he does not refer to himself that way. It’s a label that friends gave him in high school. So I feel kind of sorry for him. Sort of how I’ve always felt about a player from the early 1900s called “Home Run” Baker. Talk about creating high expectations every time you got up to bat.
Shields recorded only nine outs, allowed seven hits and left with the score 4-0, Pablo Sandoval drove in one run with a double in the first, and Pence rocketed one over the right center-field fence for two more. Pence figured into the scoring again in the fourth with a double, scoring on a single by DH Michael Morse. On this night, Shields was no “Big Game” James Worthy, the NBA legend with the same title. Nor was he even James “Big Game” Smith, a professional wrestler. Yet, Bumgarner was so country hardball tough on this night that he might have beaten Worthy in a one-on-one matchup or even body slammed the 6-2, 327-pound Smith. In Kansas City on Tuesday night, it appeared that everyone would succumb to Bum. And one more MadBum observation. Two balls were driven right back at him. He grabbed one and knocked the other down for outs. These defensive gems should not be quickly dismissed. When I’ve seen video of pitchers who were drilled by line drives in the head area, almost every one shows a pitcher whose follow through makes them totally vulnerable to a violent come-backer. Bumgarner finishes his delivery with his glove out front and in perfect balance. Other pitchers couldn’t match his stuff, but they would be wise to learn how he defends himself.
So is the World Series over?
The Royals can’t be written off, having gone 8-0 in the post-season to get to the World Series. But they didn’t even come close to playing their game in the opener. The Royals led the major leagues with 153 stolen bases, yet couldn’t even make an attempt because they had such few base runners. The Royals are known for defense, having committed just three post-season errors, and yet outfielder Nori Aoki misplayed Joe Panik’s single into a triple. The Royals boast of a bullpen trio of set-up men and a closer who take it personally if a batter even reaches first base, but they never got into Game 1. So the Royals and their fans can make their case for a turnaround.
But they may be dealing with more than just another good team.
In 1972, author Roger Kahn wrote a book titled “Boys of Summer” that told the story of Dodgers players before and after Brooklyn won its first and only World Series championship in 1955. Forget that this was about the Dodgers, Giants fans. The powerful book, one of the best ever about baseball, was about nostalgia and passion for the game. The Giants of 2010, 2012 and 2014 are headed for a powerful place in baseball history if they can successfully hunt down their prey in this World Series. The Boys of October may be on the verge of something very special.