James Shields was sharper in game five of the World Series on Sunday than he was in game one, and there was no comparison.
The Giants weren’t crushing the ball as they did at Kauffman Stadium.
But they did enough right, the little things at the plate and on the base paths, to give dominant starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner enough support for a 5-0 victory that moves the Giants one victory away from their third World Series championship in five years.
Take the Giants’ second inning, when they manufactured the game’s first run.
Hunter Pence, the Series’ hottest hitter, opened with a sharp single that shortstop Alcides Escobar couldn’t handle. It came on an 0-2 pitch.
That brought up Brandon Belt, and the Royals shifted their infield to defend the pull-hitting lefty. On Shields’ first pitch, Belt laid down a perfect bunt to the left side. Escobar charged and made a nice attempt, but Belt barely beat the throw.
“It’s something we talked about,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They put a shift on you, and they’re going to give you the bunt, take it.”
Travis Ishikawa fell behind 1-2, battled back to a full count and flew out to deep center, advancing both runners.
Shields threw strike one past Brandon Crawford, and the count was 2-2 when Crawford grounded out to second base, scoring Pence.
Three of the four hitters who contributed with contact in the inning did so with two strikes. The Giants had the only run they’d need for Bumgarner.
But they weren’t finished doing the right things. Bochy made one switch in the game, bringing in Juan Perez to pinch run for and replace Ishikawa in left field.
Ishikawa has played 16 career games in the outfield and 13 of them in the postseason. He’s a defensive liability. But he wasn’t in left field in the seventh inning; Perez, the better defender, was.
And it was Perez who hustled back to the warning track to flag down Salvador Perez’s drive.
Eric Hosmer had opened the inning with a single, and Perez made good contact. But the Royals didn’t score.
The same Juan Perez, with 11 RBIs in 206 major league plate appearances over two years, drove a ball off the wall for two RBIs in the eighth inning. He had been one for his last 18 with runners in scoring position.
The night was especially difficult for Perez, crushed by the news of the death of his friend, Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic.
Taveras, 22, hit a game-tying homer in the Cardinals’ lone victory over the Giants in the NL Championship Series.
“This kid had a great future ahead of him,” Bochy said. “He hit a big home run against us, and it’s a loss for his family, the Cardinals (and) baseball because this kid looked like he was a special talent.”
Perez, like most players, got the news early in the game, by checking a television monitor in the dugout, and broke into tears. During the game, Perez even received a photo via text message of Taveras’ body from the morgue, according to Yahoo Sports.
After the game, a post on his Twitter account paid tribute to his friend.
“That Double was 4 U Oscar! I’ll remember the Good Times. God Bless U Bro. I’ll miss U man. My condolences!”