Inside the Royals dugout, the site of such glee in these playoffs, hands rested in pockets and towels lay dormant. There was little to discuss, and even less to celebrate. The players popped sunflower seeds and spat and sighed as they watched Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner, the preeminent pitcher in these playoffs, send them back home with a 5-0 shutout Sunday in the fifth game of the World Series.
“You can’t really say too much,” outfielder Alex Gordon said. “He’s pitched against us twice, and pretty much shoved both times.”
Inside the dugout, they looked hopeless. At the plate, Bumgarner rendered them helpless.
In Bumgarner’s nine innings, the Royals struck out eight times and reached second base just once. Bumgarner spoiled a valiant effort from James Shields, his best this October, and placed San Francisco in line for its third championship in five years, leaving the Royals down, three games to two, and just one defeat away from winter.
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Ned Yost quipped Saturday night he hoped for a World Series that lasted seven games. If the Royals intend to capture their first title since 1985, they must live Yost’s dream.
“We’ve got to walk the tightrope without a net,” Yost said. “But our guys aren’t afraid of walking the tightrope without a net. We fall off and we’re dead. But we win Tuesday, and nobody’s got a net.”
The two teams will return to Kauffman Stadium after a three-night stand at AT&T Park that began with a Kansas City victory on Friday night and such promise for the rest of the weekend. Then the Royals pitching staff squandered a three-run lead in game four. Facing Bumgarner a night later, the concept of three-run lead seemed absurd.
The victory formula of the Royals involves three distinct elements: robust defense, imperial bullpen arms and enough offense to squeak by. All three elements were elusive Sunday. The defense faltered behind Shields. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis combined to yield three runs in the eighth. And Bumgarner stifled their offensive endeavors.
“When you thought you knew something, he did the exact opposite,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said.
The Royals spent four innings trying to advance a runner to second, let alone the additional 180 feet. When Omar Infante doubled in the fifth, they met that meager milestone. But Yost ran into a tactical dilemma. He opted to let Jarrod Dyson hit, rather than pinch-hit a right-handed batter like Billy Butler or Josh Willingham, and Dyson struck out.
With two out, it was Shields’ turn to hit. Still Butler and Willingham stayed in the dugout. Yost was unwilling to remove Shields from the game, not after his middle relievers betrayed him in game three. He declared after the game that it was “way too early” for such a maneuver. Along with everyone else, Yost watched in vain as Shields flailed far too early at a curveball for a strikeout.
“He’s pretty nasty, man,” Shields said.
For Shields, the outcome was cruel. His entire night could be classified by that adjective. He recovered from his dismal game-one outing, when he crumbled and Bumgarner towered above his opponents, only to find little room for error. San Francisco scored both runs in part thanks to singles that slipped beneath the glove of sure-handed shortstop Alcides Escobar.
“If he catches those balls,” Yost said, “it’s probably 0-0 going into the eighth inning. But we’re used to seeing Esky make those plays. They’re both very tough plays.”
Hunter Pence smoked the first hit past Escobar in the second inning. Brandon Belt bunted for a single. Both advanced on a deep fly ball to center, where Dyson could not hold Belt at first. Pence scored on a grounder to the right side by shortstop Brandon Crawford.
San Francisco preyed on more glitches by the Royals’ defense for its second run. Shields struck out Pence and Belt after Pablo Sandoval’s leadoff single. Travis Ishikawa managed to punch a fastball toward shortstop. Escobar reached for a backhanded snag and missed. There were two on for Crawford.
Crawford fished for a curveball that dropped low and outside the strike zone. He managed to flip it into center. In charged Dyson, and Sandoval momentarily braked at third. But the baseball bounced off Dyson’s glove, preventing him from throwing home.
“I should have laid out and caught that ball,” Dyson said. “That’s the way I feel. It just skipped up on me and came on the glove. That’s on me right there.”
The Giants accepted their second run. Bumgarner did not even need it. One look at his resume revealed his growing place in baseball lore. He has now thrown 31 innings in the Fall Classic and has allowed just one run.
One glance at Butler’s face revealed the unfairness of the night. Butler arrived as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. It was his first at-bat in San Francisco. Bumgarner stuffed a fastball inside for strike one, caused Butler to foul back a change-up and snapped a curveball at the upper edge of the zone for a called third strike. Butler froze at the plate for five seconds, staring into the lights over McCovey Cove.
One at-bat for Lorenzo Cain revealed the depth of Bumgarner’s arsenal. The radar gun clocked the five pitches he saw as such: 86 mph, 75 mph, 65 mph, 92 mph, 75 mph. The last was a curveball that Cain tapped for a harmless ground-out.
By then, Bumgarner was in the midst of mid-game domination. After Salvador Perez’s groundball single in the second, Bumgarner retired the next nine batters he faced. He struck out the side in the third, fanning Moustakas with a slider, Omar Infante with a curveball and Dyson with a fastball.
“He’s a tough guy to really get comfortable at-bats in,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “It just seems like a constant battle, every time that you’re facing him.”
The Giants cracked the game apart in the eighth. Herrera allowed two runners to reach. Juan Perez smashed a double off the wall off Davis for two more. Crawford knocked in his third run of the day soon after.
AT&T Park came alive when Bumgarner emerged from the dugout for the ninth. The stadium’s speaker system cranked “The Distance” by Cake. A group of fans bowed down behind the plate, unworthy of Bumgarner’s eminence. The rest of the crowd “M-V-P,” an award Bumgarner appears likely to win, if the Royals do not triumph the next two games.
When Hosmer grounded to third for the game’s final out, the three dozen Royals lingered in the dugout for a few moments before filling up their clubhouse and packing their bags. A red-eye flight to Missouri awaited. Nearly nine months of baseball had been reduced to one imperative: Win on Tuesday and live to play one more game.
Perhaps their best hope?
“We don’t have to face Bumgarner no more,” Dyson said.
He spoke true, but the damage had already been done. Twice in this series, Kansas City pitted their ace against his San Francisco counterpart. Both nights, Bumgarner reduced the Royals to rubble.
“That guy,” Moustakas said, “was phenomenal.”
To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.