Why James Shields has to win Game 5 of the World Series
James Shields is almost surely on the verge of pitching his last game in a Kansas City Royals’ uniform. Barring the acceptance of a massive pay cut, the 32-year-old hurler will skip town in favor of a fat contract from a major market during free agency.
Before we reach that point, Shields has a game to pitch in. It’s the most important game of his career. For better or worse, it will probably be the defining game of his career. Leading into this pivotal contest, Shields has heard all the chatter about how poor he is in comparison to Madison Bumgarner, his Game 5 opponent. He’s heard all about how undeserving he is of the “Big Game James” nickname. He’s probably even heard the coalition of skeptics desirous of Danny Duffy starting in his place.
Does any of this outside noise matter? Not particularly. What matters is the right-hander rediscovering his previously lethal fastball and changeup combination. What matters is throwing 90-93 mph heaters with accuracy instead of gunning 94-96 mph cheese absent of control. Rather than overthrowing or being hesitant with his off-speed stuff, Shields needs to approach the game in a manner that he has throughout his productive nine-year career.
More importantly, Shields needs to win this game. He has to. Not to silence his doubters and quiet his Twitter critics for the night. No, Shields has to win this game for different reasons entirely. With a stellar performance, he can be a Kansas City hero one last time before riding off into the free agency sunset. He can help his franchise take a significant step towards its first World Series title since 1985. He can be remembered for what he did in Game 5 against Bumgarner, while simultaneously erasing any thought of past playoff shortcomings.
Shields has been a successful professional for multiple reasons. Pitching to contact while avoiding the middle of the plate. Locating changeups for low strikes and burying them in the dirt when necessary. Giving his two organizations eight straight seasons of 200+ innings. Pumping his fist and exclaiming in excitement after tossing a scoreless frame. These aspects have given Shields staying power as he’s navigated through a career played entirely in the American League.
In Game 5, these aspects need to be on display. Show some fire. Show some passion. Deal a mixture of changeups and remind hitters why it can be such an equalizer of a pitch. Because in the end, the Royals’ management team brought in Shields to accomplish something special. Shields will have that chance in Game 5. As a member of the Royals, this chance will likely be his last.
-Tyler Birss (@tybirss)