Shields important piece of Royals' plan in action
Kansas City moved closer to World Series following trade for ace pitcher in 2012
KANSAS CITY -- James Shields was brought here to solidify the rotation and help teach this young Royals team how to win.
Along the way, he taught them how to celebrate a win.
It starts with a fog machine, set off from the top corner of the clubhouse. Then the strobe lights come on and a Player of the Game is named, tasked with turning on the neon sign depicting a deer with a bull's-eye -- the "Texas Headshot," as it's called -- and then getting sprayed with water. The Royals did this after all 97 of their victories this year, including the eight in a row they've reeled off in the postseason.
"One of the points," as Raul Ibanez noted, "was that water feels phenomenal, but champagne feels better."
"When I got traded over here, my mindset was just to be myself and have fun, and I feel like I take every single day like that," Shields said. "I think every game is precious, and as a little kid this is what we dreamed about doing, so there is no reason why we can't have fun out here and enjoy the moment."
Shields will take the ball opposite Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in Game 1 of the World Series tonight (air time is 6:30 p.m. CT/game time is 7:07 p.m. on FOX). It lined up that way because Shields was skipped on normal rest for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, partly because, as The Kansas City Star reported, the 32-year-old right-hander passed a kidney stone, prompting the Royals to go with Jason Vargas in an eventual sweep of the Orioles.
"It was excruciating pain," Shields told the newspaper. "I wasn't feeling good."
Shields said at the podium that he's "feeling good" now. The pain is gone, and he'll take the ball on 10 days' rest against a Giants team he threw a shutout against on Aug. 9.
Also feeling good these days: Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who acquired Shields in the polarizing trade of Dec. 9, 2012.
"That was part of our plan all along, to get a group of young players up here by 2012 or '13 and do everything that we can to support their talents to put us in a position to compete, from the first day to the last day," Moore said. "We didn't know how good we'd be, but we knew we couldn't do it without pitching. And James Shields was the very best pitcher that we could acquire."
For Shields and Wade Davis, who has evolved into one of baseball's best setup men, Moore parted ways with Wil Myers, who earned the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award, and three other prospects in Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard. Some sympathized with the Royals, who could never afford an arm like that in free agency, while others condemned Moore for mortgaging the future of a franchise that didn't -- in their opinion -- have a clear present.
Billy Butler, now 10 years removed from being drafted by the Royals, saw it a different way.
"It meant that we were ready to compete now; that we were ready to take that next step," Butler said. "This is a team that has traded veteran guys away for prospects, and we did it the other way around. We got the veteran guys."
Shields, now weeks away from free agency, won 27 games, posted a 3.18 ERA and racked up 455 2/3 regular-season innings with the Royals from 2013-14. He took the ball in the first postseason game at Kauffman Stadium in 29 years, set the tone for a staff that has had to be pieced together and brought, as pitching coach Dave Eiland put it, "the attitude that we're going to win today and that you can't think any other way."
"I don't think they're going to criticize that trade now," Eiland said. "I mean, this is why we got him."
Shortly after the deal went down -- almost two years to the day after Zack Greinke was dealt for Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, among others -- Eiland called Shields to remind him of that young, 2008 Rays team that marched all the way to the World Series.
"They were kind of like us," Eiland said. "They struggled, then they finally turned the corner and started winning."
Shields brought the postgame ritual from Tampa Bay along with his know-how for October success. Now, in what could be his final week in Kansas City, he has the Royals four wins away from a goal his Rays couldn't accomplish.
"I came over here with one mindset, and that was just to be myself," Shields said. "I can only do so much out on the field. I pitch once every five days, and my job is to go out there and try to get a win every five days. With that said, I also feel like I'm a leader in this clubhouse. I feel like I'm a leader on the pitching staff, and I have high expectations of our starting rotation."