The San Francisco Giants held serve on their home field in Games Four and Five, sending the World Series back to Kansas City for Game Six on Tuesday night. The Giants received another stellar pitching performance from Madison Bumgarner, and their offense showed up just enough to win Game Five, 5-0.
Now, the onus is on the underdog Royals, with the small payroll and the three decades barren of playoff appearances, to win on their home field and claim a championship.
This is the way it’s supposed to be, right?
The old cliche that a playoff series never really starts until the home team loses a game was employed after Game One, of course, but when the Royals took back home-field advantage in Game Three, we knew we’d be heading back to Kauffman Stadium — and that’s where we are going.
Bumgarner Goes Out in Style
Madison Bumgarner’s 2.98 regular-season ERA was the 21st-best mark in the major leagues, but his postseason effort has been otherworldly. He’s thrown 47 2/3 innings now this month, while allowing just six earned runs. That’s a 0.94 ERA against some of the best teams in baseball: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Nationals, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals.
For a guy who posted a 4.95 ERA in the month of July to suddenly get this good while throwing a career-high number of innings is quite remarkable, to say the least. It’s the stuff that creates October legends. Bumgarner’s best month in 2014 came in August when he posted a 1.57 ERA over 46 innings. October is when pitchers are getting tired from throwing so many innings, yet MadBum just got better this month, throwing the most innings he has in any month this season, after besting his career-high number of innings by more than 40 frames.
His Game Five effort at AT&T Park — where he posted a 4.03 ERA at this year — is one of the more masterful postseason pitching performances we’ll ever see. The Royals have now gone 15 innings without scoring a run, while the Giants have piled on 15 runs in that same span.
Thus, San Francisco continues to get superhuman efforts out of most of their players every October now; it’s legendary, indeed, when it defies logical analysis and statistical precedent.
Shields Loses Again
“Big Game” James Shields loses a lot of big games; there’s no debating that. While he didn’t pitch poorly in Game Five, he also didn’t keep the other team scoreless — or leave with a win on the line. Over his career, Shields has given up 8.8 hits per nine innings, so he’s not necessarily a pitcher who can dominate a game without defensive help.
Shields was victimized by the usual overachieving Giants at the plate; Brandon Crawford had the first two RBI for S.F. in Game Five, and he has hit just .234 in his four-year career with runners in scoring position. But he provided all the scoring his team would need tonight, another superb effort for the Giants from a pretty average player.
For Shields, this closes a disappointing postseason: a 1-2 record and a 6.12 ERA. It’s time to put his nickname to rest, for good. He just isn’t a big-game pitcher at all.
San Francisco still has to win one game in Kansas City, and they won’t get to do it against Shields. The Giants haven’t had the same fortune with the other Royals starters this series: both starters projected for Game Six and Game Seven (if necessary) earned wins against San Francisco in this Series already.
That gives Kansas City, and the crowd, hope. The Royals are a confident bunch, and they have some history on their side. The team’s last championship game in 1985, and that squad came home for Games Six trailing in the Fall Classic, three games to two. We know what happened then for Kansas City.
In addition, the last three teams to go back home for Game Six trailing as the Royals do now have won the World Series in seven games: the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, the 2002 Anaheim Angels and the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. And yes, it was the Giants who lost to the Angels in 2002.
In fact, the only team trailing 3-2 in the Series to go home for Game Six and not win the Fall Classic in the last 32 years was the 1992 Atlanta Braves. Otherwise, the 1991 Minnesota Twins, the 1986 New York Mets, the 1985 Royals and the 1982 Cardinals all pulled off the same feat the Royals must now accomplish.
(The 1981 New York Yankees lost Game Six at home to lose the Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, incidentally. That was payback for 1978, when the Dodgers lost Game Six at home to lose the Series to the Yankees. And then there are the 1975 Boston Red Sox, who famously won Game Six at home to force a Game Seven — before losing to the Cincinnati Reds in the end.)
Considering all this historical precedent, maybe this Series really is just getting started.