It’s now eight straight victories and counting for the Royals when James Shields starts, after winning 3-1 over New York on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
And this time, Shields even got the decision as a reward for out-pitching Yankees ace CC Sabathia. That eight-game run includes six no-decisions.
“Me and CC, we’ve faced each other numerous times,” Shields said. “We’ve had some really good battles. Anytime you’re facing CC, you’re going to have a tough battle.”
Want to know what makes it even sweeter?
Shields had lost his last six starts at Yankee Stadium — all while pitching for Tampa Bay — and was just 2-9 here with a 5.31 ERA in 13 previous career starts.
“I’ve had some bad games here,” he admitted, “but I’ve also put up some really good games here. It is what it is, but it’s good to come into Yankee Stadium and win.”
The Royals won for the fifth time in seven games and pulled back to within one game of .500, at 43-44, for the first time since June 18. They also moved to within five games of first-place Detroit.
“Great game,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Shields struggled a little bit early, but he bounced back and kept their hitters off balance. That’s all you can ask for. We just tried to make plays behind him.”
There were plenty of those.
Cain was a one-man highlight reel with a series of wide-ranging catches, including two on balls deep into the gap — one of which he turned into the final out in the first inning with the bases loaded.
“He made three unbelievable dives (for catches), and he ran two balls down in the gap,” Shields said. “He saved some runs. It seemed he ran a little more than normal. I told him I might pay for a massage or something.”
Cain won’t likely refuse it after announcing in mock outrage: “I’m tired, and my feet hurt.”
The Royals also did just enough offensively. They got homers in the sixth from David Lough and in the seventh from Billy Butler before Eric Hosmer delivered an RBI double in the eighth.
“It was great to get Shields a lead,” Butler said. “After the first inning, he was lights out. We still didn’t score a lot for him, but going up against CC — that’s a good win, man. CC was tough. He was typical CC.”
Shields, 4-6, gave up one run in what, for him, seems to be an always troublesome first inning but nothing more before handing a two-run lead to Tim Collins to start the eighth inning.
After yielding four hits in the first inning, Shields permitted just one more over the next six innings. He struck out five and walked two for his 15th quality start in 19 outings.
“Forget the record,” manager Ned Yost said. “The record has nothing to do with the way he’s pitched. Look at his ERA. Look at his innings pitched. He’s been as good as you can hope a No. 1 starter can be.”
Collins worked around a one-out single to Brett Gardner in a scoreless eighth inning — thanks to a terrific play by second baseman Elliot Johnson, just inserted for defensive purposes, to steal a single from Ichiro Suzuki.
That got the game to Greg Holland, who pitched a one-two-three ninth for his 22nd save in 24 opportunities. He is perfect in his last 15 saves chances, but he, too, benefited from a fine defensive play.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas, also a late defensive replacement, ran down a twisting two-out looper by Lyle Overbay in short left field. It provided a fitting climax.
Sabathia, 9-7, pitched his second complete game of the year while permitting seven hits. He struck out six and walked two.
It just wasn’t good enough.
The Royals trailed 1-0 before pulling even on Lough’s leadoff homer in the sixth inning and taking the lead on Butler’s leadoff homer in the seventh.
Both turned around fastballs from Sabathia.
Lough went into the second deck beyond the right-field wall, and Butler sent a drive to left for his eighth homer and second in as many nights.
“(Sabathia) started me off with two sliders,” Lough said. “He kind of fooled me on the second one. Then he tried to put a fastball by me inside, and I was able to turn on it.…
“I think that was a momentum-changer for us. Then Billy was able to hit another solo, and we took the lead.”
Shields responded each time with a one-two-three inning.
The Royals extended their lead to 3-1 on successive doubles in the eighth inning by Alcides Escobar and Hosmer.
That was it.
As usual, Shields struggled at the outset. He has allowed 16 runs in the first inning of his 19 starts.
Gardner opened the first by dropping a bunt single up the third-base line. Suzuki followed with a single up the middle that moved Gardner to third.
Robinson Cano then yanked an RBI single past first for a 1-0 lead. Shields struck out Travis Hafner, but Zoilo Almonte’s single through the right side loaded the bases with one out.
Third-base coach Rob Thomson chose to hold Suzuki at third on the play rather than test Lough’s arm from medium right field.
“I thought he was going to go for sure, Lough said. “I came up ready to throw because I thought they were going to send him with his speed. I’m glad they didn’t.”
That gave Shields an opportunity to limit the damage to one run — and he did just that. He struck out Overbay before Cain ran down Eduardo Nunez’s deep drive into the right-center gap.
“The first inning, I was making my pitches,” Shields said. “They were just seeing-eye ground balls. I mean, they just hit it where our guys weren’t. It was nice to settle down after that first inning and get the job done.”