James Shields recovered from a shaky start Tuesday night and beat his former club when the Royals finally found some offensive punch in the late innings for an 8-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium.
It was an emotional night for Shields, who spent 12 years in the Rays’ organization before coming to the Royals in a transformative offseason trade.
“The guys had my back,” he said. “They always do. That's what this team's all about. We're real resilient. After a couple of losses, we fought back hard tonight.
“I've said it before — we've got a lot of character on this team. I knew I had to grind it out. I knew (Alex) Cobb was on the other side doing his thing. He's pitched well all year long. I just kept us in the game.”
Shields opened the game by surrendering a checked-swing single and a booming homer but yielded nothing further in his seven innings before handing a 7-2 lead to Kelvin Herrera.
“That shows he’s a veteran pitcher who knows how to pitch,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “It real easy to get rattled right there when you’re facing your old team.
“They start off with a two-run homer, but he leaves the guy on third base with less than two outs. He came back to the dugout and told us to get some hits, that they’re staying right there. And that’s what he did.”
Those two early runs, however, looked bigger and bigger as the Royals struggled to solve Tampa Bay starter Cobb. They finally did so by erupting for four two-out runs in the sixth inning.
It’s no small thing, either, that Hosmer started the rally with a double, and Mike Moustakas crushed a two-run homer that provided the Royals with a 3-2 lead.
“That’s what I was most excited about,” said Moustakas, who had not hit a homer in 129 previous at-bats dating to Sept. 14, 2012.
“Not that I hit a homer, but that I gave us the lead. Anytime you’ve got a lead with Jamie Shields in the game, and with the bullpen we’ve got, it’s almost automatic that we get a W.”
The Royals added three more runs, thanks to some sloppy Rays’ defense, in the seventh before Shields departed. Herrera worked around a one-out single in the eighth before Greg Holland closed the game in a non-save situation.
The victory enabled the Royals to close April at 14-10 and avoid their first three-game losing streak. Shields squared his record at 2-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.00 after he limited his former club to two runs and five hits.
“Vintage Shields,” said Rays pitcher David Price, the reigning Cy Young winner. “Kept his composure in the first even though he had already given up two runs. That was just James Shields.”
Shields needed to be Shields because the Royals managed little against Cobb, 3-2, before breaking through in the sixth inning.
“We faced him last year, and we beat him 8-0,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “but you can tell he’s learned to locate the ball and put it where he wants. Those first five or six innings, he baffled us.
“Then Hos got that first hit, and we took off. I think Moose, Salvy (Perez) and me all hit change-ups that he left up. Regardless of whether he got tired, we took advantage.”
Hosmer started the rally by slicing a double to left, and he scored when Lorenzo Cain pulled a an RBI single through the left side.
That ended a 15-inning scoreless streak that dated to the eighth inning of Sunday night’ 10-3 loss to Cleveland in the second game of a day-night doubleheader.
The Royals weren’t done.
Moustakas unloaded on a 1-0 change-up and the Royals led 3-2.
“Cain came up with a big hit with two outs,” Hosmer said. “We finally beat a shift. Then Moose came up with that two-out homer. Those are the type of hits that can get your offense going for weeks.”
Francoeur pulled a double to left and scored when Perez followed with an RBI single. Elliot Johnson’s single, which moved Perez to second, was the Royals’ sixth straight two-out hit.
That finished Cobb, who appeared in complete command before Hosmer’s double. His final line showed four runs and 10 hits in 52/3 innings.
Not to be overlooked: Shields followed the four-run outburst with a one-two-three shutdown inning before the Royals blew open the game with a three-run burst.
“It's very satisfying.” Shields said. “I know every single one of those guys like the back of my hand over there. I've got a lot of brothers on that team. I definitely wanted to win this game tonight.”
Alcides Escobar started the three-run seventh with a single against Brandon Gomes. When Escobar stole second, it prompted a one-out intentional walk to Hosmer.
Cain’s floater into short center fell between three players for a single that loaded the bases.
Moustakas delivered a sacrifice fly on a 3-0 pitch before Cain stole second. The throw by catcher Jose Molina sailed into the outfield for an error that permitted Hosmer to score. Cain went to third.
Francoeur followed with an RBI triple over the head of right fielder Ben Zobrist for a 7-2 lead. The Royals added their final run in the eighth on Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly.
The Royals finished with 14 hits, including at least one from every starter. The victory kept them one-half game behind first-place Detroit in the American League Central Division.
So it ended well, but the start, for Shields, couldn’t have been much worse.
His first pitch turned into a single by Desmond Jennings on a checked-swing grounder up the middle. Matt Joyce then crushed a 3-1 fastball for a two-run homer to right field.
Two batters and down 2-0.
Evan Longoria drew a one-out walk and went to third on James Loney’s double to right, but Shields stranded both by striking out Yunel Escobar and Luke Scott.
“I think those two runs in the first might have hurt us a little bit,” Cobb said. “They just got (Shields) more angry. The competitor in him showed to the extreme.”