It’s not hard to make a case that left-hander Danny Duffy was the Royals’ best starter this season, but he was benched during a mostly magical postseason run.
Duffy was dropped from the playoff rotation and pitched only one inning, a scoreless 10th in the opening game of the American League Division Series in Anaheim, Calif., during the Royals’ eight-game win streak on the way to the World Series.
That changed Tuesday night in the first game of the Fall Classic at Kauffman Stadium, but Duffy hadn’t felt left out despite his lack of innings.
“We went 8-0,” Duffy said. “Even if we went 8-4, we were winning. It doesn’t matter if I’m out there. It doesn’t matter if any of us are out there or not. As long as we’re winning games … it’s all good. This team’s all for one and one for all.”
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It happened to be Duffy’s turn after starter James Shields was pulled three batters into the fourth inning.
Duffy settled in for a three-inning stint, allowing two runs on a hit and three walks with three strikeouts.
It wasn’t a perfect outing, but it was important — and potentially series-saving if the Royals can scratch together a few wins with a still-fresh bullpen.
“I’m not satisfied with what I did to contribute today, but we’ll keep working and I did my best,” Duffy said.
After a sacrifice bunt, Duffy walked Brandon Crawford and forced in a run with another walk to Gregor Blanco, bumping the Giants’ lead to 5-0.
From there, Duffy settled in and retired eight straight batters before issuing a leadoff walk to Blanco in the seventh.
Joe Panik chased Duffy from the game one batter later when he lashed a triple into right-center field.
“I was really happy with his outing,” manager Ned Yost said. “What happens a little bit here: First inning in the World Series, you’re a little amped up and you’ve got to come out and you’ve got to get settled in.”
Right fielder Nori Aoki took a poor route to Panik’s liner and slipped as he tried to field the hop, allowing what might otherwise have been a single to skip to the wall.
It was tough luck and tainted Duffy’s final line, but there’s little doubt that he did his job — that of long reliever — well, especially considering that he’d thrown 19 pitches in a game since Sept. 27.
“I’ve been doing a lot of side work and did a (simulated) game,” Duffy said. “I didn’t feel rusty at all. I think it’s been 19 days, but in between I’ve been doing a lot of work and keeping my delivery right. My delivery felt better out there today than it has in a long time.”
After moving into the rotation in early May, Duffy went 8-11 with a 2.55 ERA, allowing only 108 hits with 102 strikeouts in 141 innings. Opponents hit .211 off him with a .612 OPS as a starter.
He missed two starts in mid-September because of shoulder inflammation and couldn’t throw strikes from the windup upon returning.
Duffy, who reiterated again that his shoulder is fine, threw exclusively from the stretch in his last two regular-season starts, but pitched from the windup again during the ALDS extra-inning relief appearance.